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The Antagonist by Lynn Coady
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The Antagonist (2013)

by Lynn Coady

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Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
The Antagonist by Lynn Coady was a short listed book finalist for the prestigious Canadian Giller Prize for 2011. So, when I opened the book, I approached it as such and expected a literary eloquence in narrative, details of landscape in setting, and a myriad of complex characters in an elaborate plot that speaks to a high order of the privileged few about its philosophy on the potential downfall or evolution of society. (Insert breath, here.) Yeah, one of those books. A book that is heavier than my hand in writing this first paragraph. Because heavy-handed is not a place a writer wants to be, nor does a reader. I know. I’m both.

So, it was much to my relief that this book surprised me (but, only after the fact, because really, I don’t like it when an author initially says in his or her writing, “Ha! And you expected Northrop Frye!”). So much for what I know.

It’s said you “shouldn’t read a book by its cover,” but the lesson learned here, too, is you shouldn’t judge a book by its seal of award nominations – long-listed or short.

That’s not to say it was a poorly written novel, unworthy of its shortlist Giller acclaim. It’s not. It’s a deceptively simple narrative, a confessional collection of email written by the main character, Gord Rankin Jr., also known as Rank, in response to his best friend, Adam’s book publication in which he discovers he is the star and central character.

But, star is too kind a word for the “antagonistic” email-writer who resents being fictionalized in a novel without first granting his explicit permission, if not disclosing the full “truth” behind its story – his story. Thus, an onslaught of daily conversational rants becomes the collective essence of the book, which through its dialogue reveals the true nature of its hulking giant and his overly scrutinized temperament.

Gord Rankin Jr., as Rank, a name he self-imposed, has but, one main identity flaw: he is big. Big for his age, bigger than his friends, and feels the pressure associated with his bulk as a weight to act out a premature manhood that he has not yet emotionally identified with, and yet has unexpectedly manifested itself in his overgrown body.

Most pre-pubescent boys wish for such a growth spurt, rushing forward into their futures searching for elusive manhood explained to them as something innately measured by the size of their biceps, the abundance of their hair growth, their sexual promiscuity and prowess with women, and the bravado of adrenalin and aggression readily exhibited in sport. At least this is the stereotype.

And Rank is the victim of such stereotypical branding. Unfortunately, not only is he unprepared to fully understand the magnification of his own strength, this stereotype, which trapped him as a child has also led him to its full supplication. He was simply too big in his own mind and others around him that he succumbed to living out a lifestyle that pegged him as an uneducated, muscle-bound brute.

But, it wasn’t just size that he battled against in his upbringing. It was his own animosity towards his brash-mouthed, brazen father and the loss of his idyllic, “saintly” mother. This kind of burden coupled with a readily instilled, hot temper coupled with physical dominance is bound to erupt in some form of violence whether it be unintended or not. And the outcome can be traumatic.

And so, it is through this therapeutic email writing that Rank slowly discloses to the reader as well as to his friend, Adam, his version of the story that has been according to Rank, superficially immortalized in a book.

Subordinate characters in the story include a quick-tempered father, a drug-pushing thug, a judgemental constable, a college fraternity, an alcoholic bouncer, a Born-Again girlfriend, and an empathetic counsellor and hockey coach—all facets to a larger story to the bulk of Rank, himself.

It is an easy, quick read. At times the writing is self-absorbed, but then how can it not be, considering the email writing is one-sided and self-reflected? This book is as much an internal dialogue as it is long-winded. It has to be. It’s email—in all its technological-acronym-glory of OMGs and modern, street-dialogue including the word, fuck. But, there is brash wit and a hidden intelligence in Rank’s dialogue that lets you know that he’s no “dumb jock.”

The friendship between Adam and himself, though not fully articulated, is one of polar opposites, where Rank, the broad-shouldered, meat-eating, alcohol-partying guy finds a confidence in the quiet assurance and watchfulness of his academic peer and counterpart, Adam.

It’s a story about strength and the lack of it; about family and friendship; and the power of the fist as much as it is about men and the fragility of their egos—as well as their hearts.

Now, go and punch something for not buying this book sooner.

No?

Good.

Better to read this book instead. ( )
  ZaraD.Garcia-Alvarez | Jun 6, 2017 |
3.5 stars only because this book lost steam in the last 80 pages and sort of petered out instead of ending with a bang consistent with the rest of the novel. The concept for this book was super original and Coady's writing ability takes you from moments of hilarity to moments of profundity oftentimes within the same paragraph. Brilliant concept, great language. Really liked it and definitely worth the read (even with the ending being a little meh). ( )
  Maureen_McCombs | Aug 19, 2016 |
Lynn Coady is the voice inside my head, but far more eloquent. She's those glimpses of truth in life's little situations that disappear just before you see them. She's a phenomenal writer and this is a stellar book. She has a marvelous gift for stringing together the bursts of insight that neatly tie up what you were previously trying to say in no less than 35 minutes of earnest conversation.

"It turned out that if you spent a lot of time inducing the emotion of drunkenness, the emotion of boredom would station itself just around the corner, just on the other side of sobriety, and wait - not to pounce, exactly, boredom wasn't an emotion that pounced - but to sort of collapse against you and hang on, like a girl at a party late at night."

So that's going to be stuck in my head pretty much forever. Gushing aside, this is a great book and you should probably just go read it. ( )
  liso | Sep 18, 2015 |
I really enjoyed this book. I loved the writing style. I think the story moved along more quickly than some of the other reviewers. I had the sense that Rank felt trapped by his size - that it was a liability because of the expectations and prejudices that come with being big. It seems he struggled against his size.

I liked the religious theme that ran through the book - the "randomness" of the gods.

Overall, I thought this was a great read. ( )
  Mimiyoyo | Feb 23, 2015 |
i found this to be an enjoyable read. intense at moments, and quite evocative. i finished reading it also night, so feel i need to think on this some more. the ending didn't come together as strongly for me as i had hoped, so i haven't finished processing how that has affected the whole read for me. i found the people and times relatable -- i was in university at the same time as is portrayed with rank. it was a small university in a tight-knit community. i knew these guys. i knew this bar - though the one i attended was run by hell's angels and called 'the g'. they (the angels) were good enough to tolerate lame-ass university kids thinking they were being tough by going to the biker bar. we were good, after all, for bringing a lot of money into the bar. though we never saw, or even truly knew, the full extent of all the other things going on in an around the g.

anyway.... rambling. i am still pondering this one so will try to remember to come back and get a bit more written up on this one. ( )
  Booktrovert | Jan 6, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
This epistolary novel for the Internet Age by Canadian Lynn Coady is emotionally honest and adept at busting open stereotypes while still making good use of them—as all writers must—for a sort of shorthand.
 
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Epigraph
There will be time to murder and create.
—T.S. Eliot
Dedication
First words
There you are in the picture looking chubby and pompous, and it makes me remember how you told me that time you were afraid of fat people.
Quotations
I remember thinking, the gang from Mount Olympus made a lot more sense than the guy I'd been hearing about most of my life up until that point. Who are you going to believe runs the show if you're a citizen of Planet Earth with any kind of awareness was to what's going on around you? are you going to buy into the story about this great guy, who is actually somehow three guys, one-third human, and he loves everybody equally, and all he wants is for everyone to behave themselves? (But, oh yeah, sometimes tsunamis at Christmastime. Sometimes bombs on civilian populations. Sometimes mothers dying horribly.) Or do you believe in this self-absorbed pack of loons who couldn't give a shit what happens on earth but just for fun decide to come down every once in a while to screw with us?
And do you really think your guy's any better, Father? You think you guy isn't just Zeus with better PR?
We men, he told me, we walk around with no idea how fragile our hearts might be.
There he was, the character I knew to be myself, lumbering in and out of scenes, and I'd be outraged when he was like me, because that was stealing, and outraged when he wasn't, because that was lying.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0887842968, Hardcover)

A piercing epistolary novel, The Antagonist explores, with wit and compassion, how the impressions of others shape, pervert, and flummox both our perceptions of ourselves and our very nature.

Gordon Rankin Jr., aka “Rank,” thinks of himself as “King Midas in reverse”—and indeed misfortune seems to follow him at every turn. Against his will and his nature, he has long been considered—given his enormous size and strength—a goon and enforcer by his classmates, by his hockey coaches, and, not least, by his “tiny, angry” father. He gamely lives up to their expectations, until a vicious twist of fate forces him to flee underground. Now pushing forty, he discovers that an old, trusted friend from his college days has published a novel that borrows freely from the traumatic events of Rank’s own life. Outraged by this betrayal and feeling cruelly misrepresented, he bashes out his own version of his story in a barrage of e-mails to the novelist that range from funny to furious to heartbreaking.

With The Antagonist, Lynn Coady demonstrates all of the gifts that have made her one of Canada’s most respected young writers. Here she gives us an astonishing story of sons and fathers and mothers, of the rewards and betrayals of male friendship, and a large-spirited, hilarious, and exhilarating portrait of a man tearing his life apart in order to put himself back together.
 

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:23:36 -0400)

A man of enormous size and strength, Gordon Rankin, Jr., has been plagued with misfortune his entire life, which culminates in an old, trusted college friend publishing a novel that borrows freely from the traumatic events of Rank's own life.

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