by Terry Fallis
After five demoralizing years in Canadian politics, Daniel Addison decides to quit his job as speechwriter to the leader of the Opposition Liberals to start teaching English at the University of Ottawa. (The decision came shortly after unintentionally witnessing his girlfriend’s late-night “political discourse” with the House Leader.) But, as a last request before leaving––one he needs to fulfill if he doesn’t want to burn any bridges in the process––the leader of his party asks him to find a candidate to run in the riding of Cumberland-Prescott, which happens to have been a Conservative stronghold since Confederation, and whose incumbent MP is probably the most popular Tory in the country. The Best Laid Plans follows Addison as he attempts this impossible task.
But, I guess there’s more to it than that, and I guess I’ll hesitantly go through it. The first part of the book explores Addison’s search for the candidate––who ends up being one Angus McLintock, an Engineering prof at U of O, who lends his name to the candidacy with the expectation that there’s no way he could possibly win and with Addison teaching his hated English for Engineers course in exchange––as well as the hopeless election campaign. In the second part, Addison works as executive assistant to the newly-elected MP for Cumberland-Prescott, doing his best to rein in a politician who cares more about doing the right thing than the popular thing, all while attempting to protect McLintock in the unforgiving world of partisan politics. (I briefly considered offering a spoiler warning before revealing a plot tidbit that doesn’t get mentioned in any synopsis I read, but, to be honest, I didn’t think this development was particularly surprising. Once things started unfolding, I found it hard to imagine the story being anything remotely substantial were they to lose the campaign.)
And bringing up the “pseudo-spoiled” plot is important when it comes to discussing The Best Laid Plans, as this is where the meat of the book is found. While the first part is very much light silliness, attempts to tug at our heartstrings notwithstanding, it almost feels like a prolonged introduction to a story about the state of modern Canadian politics, a story presenting the author’s beliefs about a higher standard to which we should hold our politicians. Fallis shows the good that could (theoretically) be done should a brave, intelligent, honest man ascend into the House of Commons. The first part just works hard to explain how such a man could get there without wheeling, dealing, and mud-slinging––and being entirely absent from the entire electoral campaign, in fact.
But, keep in mind that The Best Laid Plans is very much a comedy book, and, as with other books that lean heavily on humour––Mogworld, The Martian, and Modern Romance come to mind here––your enjoyment largely hinges on how much you like the author’s brand of comedy. This is where Fallis lost me, as I didn’t respond favourably to it, much as was the case with these other books. Also keep in mind, however, that a lot of people did. Fallis’ writing actually puts me heavily in mind with Andy Weir’s, so I imagine that your thoughts about The Martian would provide a good benchmark for how satisfying you’re likely to find The Best Laid Plans. The big difference I found at least is that Fallis’ book had a bit more substance, and I suspect you’d agree with me if you at least have a bit of interest in modern politics.