Will Ferguson & Ian Ferguson, How to Be a Canadian

The Ferguson brothers: an active bunch of cultural producers, with one representative in books (Will), one in theatre (Ian), and one in music (Sean). Will's the one with the most money, I'd guess, but Sean teaches at McGill, and Ian (who seems wildly accomplished) is co-author of How to Be a Canadian, so they're both doing OK.

There's a cheery blurb from Douglas Coupland on the front cover, and I would normally take that as a good sign, but.... Well, he's credited in red print as "Doug Coupland," so (a) maybe it's some other guy they wouldn't have to pay as much, and (b) am I supposed to notice the implied familiarity, since as a mere reader I only see books with the full name "Douglas" on them? Yes, yes, I know I'm both obsessing and delaying comment, but these things happen.

I really wanted to like this book, but I didn't. It's Dave Barry with local content.

What's wrong with that, you ask? Like you, I love Dave Barry's work. Actually, no, I love the first half of almost every Dave Barry column, and I appreciate the running gags (like the line "I am not making this up," for example, or his regular references to "alert reader [name]"). The second half of a typical Barry column rarely works for me; I way too often get bored, tired of the schtick, even a little embarrassed for him. I imagine Mr. Barry doesn't mind too much, since he's both a kazillionaire and a widely respected linguist, but still.

I stuck with the book, because it was going quickly enough I could say to others, "Hey, I read yet another book this year, boy, am I clever," but I'm not buying copies for Christmas gifts, even though the new cover is stylish indeed. There are some funny bits, actually some very funny bits, but they got increasingly predictable the more I read. Maybe it's just that I'm already Canadian enough, in the proper sort of way?

Too much of it felt cheap and easy, like the repeated references to tongues frozen to metal posts, politeness, federal government agencies, the word "eh," that sort of thing. Don't get me wrong, "cheap" and "easy" are two characteristics I prize above most others, but I want my authors' pages to show signs of sweat. I had the same reaction to Will Ferguson's novel Happiness, but I'm not rereading that one just to find something specific to say about it now.

Some of you might appreciate the nice discussion of why the standard Canadian version of anti-Americanism (I'm looking at you, Zoot), but this book is perhaps best dipped into while you stand at a bookstore. Maybe instead you could buy something by Tim Bowling, Tom Wayman, or best of all the brilliant and lamented Bronwen Wallace.


Anonymous said…
I'll tell you why you didn't like that book. Will.Ferguson.Is.Not.Funny. Never has been. Ever. How has he made a career out of this? The mind boggles. Truly.

Love the cover, though.
richard said…
Except that on occasion, and for brief flashes, he's very funny indeed: predictable too often, hammering away at the same nail, but the first instinct works.

Why do you think he's been so successful? Must be some reason for it: he's a real workhorse, for one thing, so that's very appealing to an editor.
Melwyk said…
Yeah, I didn't really love this one either. And as for Happiness, well, I think it would have worked better as a short story. It's like one of those Saturday Night Live skits made into a movie, just too much of a good thing.
richard said…
Good comment, Melanie: I hadn't thought of it that way, but you're probably right.

(Will & Ian Ferguson = Steve & Doug Butabi?)

Popular Posts