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Brian Francis tackles The Best Laid Plans

I was watching an entertainment show the other night and saw a story most of you may be familiar with by this point. A homeless man from Ohio with a velvety radio voice has become an overnight sensation (a phrase that's becoming more and more literal in these viral times) thanks to a local news clip and a YouTube posting.

Ted Williams has been transformed from a street peddler to a clean-shaven celebrity. He's made the rounds on morning TV programs, has been reunited with his mother and has received numerous offers for voice-over work. Within the span of a week, Williams has gone from street corners to The Today Show.

If Williams's story is any indication, 2011 could be shaping up to be the Year of the Underdog.

Terry Fallis, author of The Best Laid Plans, knows a thing or two about underdogs. Take, for example, the premise of his novel. A former speechwriter manages to persuade his grizzled landlord, Angus McLintock, to run as the Liberal candidate in his riding. Neither of them expects (or wants) McLintock to be victorious. But in true underdog fashion, McLintock wins his riding, is enthusiastically embraced by the public and discovers his inner political calling along the way.

There's another underdog triumph in The Best Laid Plans, and that's the book itself. Fallis, unable to find a publisher for his first novel, ended up going the route of self-publishing. Then the book won the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour. Then it got picked up by McClelland & Stewart, which has since published the sequel. And then the book became a Canada Reads contender.

I have to admit I'm not that interested in politics. I can't move past the cloud of showmanship that seems to surround most politicians. But Fallis does a superb job (through ample humour and charm) of guiding his reader through the inner workings of Parliament Hill. And while his former professional experience in government no doubt contributes to the authenticity of his story, it's the writer in Fallis that illuminates the humanity behind the machinery.

What struck me about the book was the immense pressure politicians are placed under. Yes, they wield power; yes, they sometimes abuse that, but politicians walk such a perilous line between acceptance and rejection. For most of us, the boundaries between our personal lives and professional ones are fairly established and respected. Not always so with our elected officials. It made me wonder why anyone would want to step into that glaring spotlight.

But by giving us a rogue like Angus McLintock, Fallis uncovers the heart of his story. Here's a character who wants to use his power for change. Good change. He cares less about politics and more about the people around him. And in doing so, Fallis reminded me of what's at the core of a political life: a desire to make things better.

What The Best Laid Plans is about is sincerity. It's about the surprising joy of rediscovering yourself, regardless of your age or social standing or how self-aware you think you are. It's about re-examining the purpose that sometimes gets muddled within the routines of our daily life. It's about second chances. Ultimately, The Best Laid Plans remind us that just when we think we've figured things out, life tosses a curve ball in our direction. Whether we drop that ball or run with it is ultimately up to us.

I think Ted Williams, along with Angus McLintock, could vouch for that.

Will this book be the champ? Each week, I'll do a round-up of what I think are the strengths for each title competing for the Canada Reads crown. Feel free to weigh in with your own thoughts.

Reasons why The Best Laid Plans might take it:

  • A book that beat the odds
  • Knee-deep in Canadian politics
  • Refreshing in its humour
  • An inspiring, big-hearted story
  • Defended by Ali Velshi (If you're on CNN, chances are you're pretty articulate)

The Best Laid Plans could very well walk away the winner in the Canada Reads "election." I only wonder if its light tone will resonate with panelists looking for a denser read.

Next week, I'll muscle in on The Bone Cage by Angie Abdou.

Brian Francis

Brian Francis is Canada Reads' resident blogger. His debut novel, Fruit, was the runner-up in the Canada Reads 2009 debates. His second novel, The Natural Order, will be published in fall 2011.

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