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The Antagonist (2013)
by Lynn Coady
No current Talk conversations about this book.
Well written and engaging, thoughtful look at male violence and its consequences. Also takes on catholicism, evangelism and their less happy sides. ( )
I was not sure about this book when I started to read it, it did not really appeal to me, especially when my reading club selected it as a "Hockey" book. That is really not the main theme. Once I got into it though, I could not put it down. The main character finds out as an adult,that his best friend from university, Adam, has written a book about him and he is angry and wants to set the story straight. He contacts Adam by email and facebook and begins to write his story without leaving out the important parts.
Gordon Rankin "Rank" is the voice in this story and it is an angry one. He is an adopted boy who grows up, physically anyway, in a home with a very angry, small father. Rank is larger than any of the other boys in town and his father uses that, to the point where Rank ends up in a juvenile detention centre for a fight that gives another boy brain damage. Once out, he begins to play hockey and eventually gets a scholarship for University. He meets 3 others and they become inseparable. Rank quits the hockey team because he does not want to be the goon and the struggles of how he will be able to continue school begin. As Rank's story continues, we meet several other people from is life, how they effected him and he begins to reconcile with his past. A good read that really makes you think about how young boys are molded to fit a certain path and how that effects them for life.
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. Iâ€™m both.
So, it was much to my relief that this book surprised me (but, only after the fact, because really, I donâ€™t like it when an author initially says in his or her writing, â€śHa! And you expected Northrop Frye!â€ť). So much for what I know.
Itâ€™s said you â€śshouldnâ€™t read a book by its cover,â€ť but the lesson learned here, too, is you shouldnâ€™t judge a book by its seal of award nominations â€“ long-listed or short.
Thatâ€™s not to say it was a poorly written novel, unworthy of its shortlist Giller acclaim. Itâ€™s not. Itâ€™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, Adamâ€™s book publication in which he discovers he is the star and central character.
But, star is too kind a word for the â€śantagonisticâ€ť email-writer who resents being fictionalized in a novel without first granting his explicit permission, if not disclosing the full â€śtruthâ€ť behind its story â€“ 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 wasnâ€™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, â€śsaintlyâ€ť 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 coachâ€”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. Itâ€™s emailâ€”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 Rankâ€™s dialogue that lets you know that heâ€™s no â€śdumb jock.â€ť
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.
Itâ€™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 egosâ€”as well as their hearts.
Now, go and punch something for not buying this book sooner.
Better to read this book instead.
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).
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.
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 themâ€”as all writers mustâ€”for a sort of shorthand.
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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.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
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