Slouching Towards Innocence by Ron Norman
(Now or Never Publishing $19.95)

These days, our collective attention is dominated, like it or not, by the Trumpian fiascos of American politics. Ron Norman’s Slouching Towards Innocence is a refreshing detour into our corner of Canadian politics.

B.C. is often referred to as the ‘wild west’ of Canadian politics and Norman stays true to that reputation. After young, impressionable reporter Malcolm Bidwell is hired by the province’s newly-elected United Party to provide communications services, he is introduced to Premier Steven Davis in a most unusual manner: when a legislative staffer named Catherine—who is secretly sleeping with the Premier—calls Malcolm in a middle-of-the-night panic.

This is worse than Gordon Campbell’s drunk driving incident in Hawaii. The situation? Our illustrious premier is comatose on Catherine’s bed, sporting an enormous, Viagra-induced erection, and can’t be woken with any amount of shaking and prodding.

Malcolm’s reluctant decision to help lug Davis’ dead weight to his hotel—as surreptitiously as possible given the offending appendage—puts our protagonist forever in the premier’s debt. But it also makes him a de-facto conspirator with the female staffer (who has a tendency towards low-cut blouses).

This cringe-worthy, 3 a.m. scene feels like it’s straight out of a movie. One gets the sense that Norman wrote the book with the intention (or hope) of having it made into a film. Indeed, the opening chapter, in which the premier gives a cynical victory speech, is written in screenplay format.

A fall-out with Malcolm’s girlfriend, who disapproves of his decision to leave the newspaper business, only complicates his life further.

As a debut novelist, Ron Norman, who lives in Brentwood Bay, adheres to that old adage ‘show, don’t tell.’ As the chief of staff unfavourably describes a principled, veteran cabinet minister whose political days are numbered for not toeing the party line, a quintessential Victoria scene takes place outside: “A horse and carriage clip-clopped lazily down the tree-shaded street, going in and out of the patches of sunlight that peeked through the leafy canopy, a string of cars backed up in frustration behind it.”

I work at a communications agency that provides public affairs consulting (which is just a fancy way of saying government relations) so I have a general sense of how government works. Yet I found Norman’s behind-the-scenes glimpses into the inner workings of the legislature both informative and entertaining. An ex-reporter, Norman has also spent more than a decade as a senior bureaucrat in B.C. politics, so he writes from a position of authority.

“Commissionaires in white shirts, clipped black ties and military epaulettes patrolled the hallway trying unsuccessfully to exert some control over the chaos by issuing verbal cautions for reporters to stay off the red carpet, so as not to block access. Backbenchers sauntered through the maze of reporters untouched and largely unrecognized.
“Parliamentary secretaries, ministers of state, and ministers with minor portfolios lingered hopefully, unable to resist the allure of perhaps making the six o’clock news, yet knowing that they were only of interest if they had badly mis-stepped…

“Opposition communications staff weaved their way through the reporters and government communicators like spies working behind enemy lines, monitoring media scrums and sending back intelligence via smartphone for critics to use during Question Period.”

Slouching Towards Innocence provides the reader with a crash course in media relations. You’ll learn tricks politicians use to handle tough questions from reporters. For instance, the minister in charge of Veteran Affairs gets chastised for the mistake of repeating a negative in his response—a classic no-no. Malcolm points out this rookie mistake, then teaches him about ‘bridging’ away from tough questions just minutes before a critical media scrum.

My only complaint is that Malcolm’s character, at least at the outset, isn’t as colourful as the supporting cast. He comes across as a somewhat meek fellow who tip-toes around his ever-critical girlfriend. He is initially subservient; life happens to him. Norman writes, “Malcolm tried to think of something he felt so strongly about that he would take a stand—no matter what. Nothing came to mind.”

Eventually Malcolm’s star begins to rise in the B.C. legislature, thanks to bonafide issues management work that saves numerous political reputations. His shrewdness grows along with his professional stature.
Beyond the central topic of save-your-own-skin politics, Norman sheds light on the newspaper industry’s struggle to survive, big city elitism and our collective obsession with house prices.

From that late-night, Viagra-induced rescue, to a minister caught with same-sex prostitutes, to the premier’s animal cruelty charges for killing a lowly crow, Slouching Towards Innocence treats the reader to non-stop scandal and action—all distinctly homegrown.

While novels about B.C. politics are rare, Ron Norman’s welcome debut is not the first book with a title alluding to Yeats’ 1919 poem ‘The Second Coming.’ Joan Didion’s well-known collection of essays, Slouching towards Bethlehem, has been followed by Robert Bork’s bestseller Slouching Towards Gomorrah and English professor W.C. Harris’ Slouching Towards Gaytheism. Chinua Achebe referenced Yeats’ poem for his title Things Fall Apart in 1958 and Robert Parker also wrote a detective novel called The Widening Gyre.

At least Ron Norman is in good company.

Jeremy Twigg is a graduate of UBC’s Creative Writing Program.