Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Antagonist by Lynn Coady

This is the next book on my list of the top 100 Canadian novels, and it deserves to be there in my view.  The style of the book is unusual - it is entirely a series of e-mails written by Gordon Rankin (who calls himself Rank) to a university friend, Adam.  Despite this single perspective, Coady manages to sustain my interest.

Rank is a very large child who was adopted by two parents small in stature somewhere "on the coast".  Early on his father, who he describes as small and angry, casts him in the role of enforcer at his Icy Dreams ice cream franchise.  Because of his size he is even pigeon holed as a goon by local police when in fact he has pulled his father off one of the local punks.  Things go terribly wrong one night when he is enforcing order in the parking lot.  We find out fairly early on what has gone wrong and then we find out Rank's mother has died but we only learn the circumstances of her death toward the very end which was a great use of suspense by the author.

Rank has only confessed his past to Adam, a nerdy boy who he befriends in first year university.  We learn early on that he fled university under mysterious circumstances after his first term.  Again we do not learn the reason until much later.  He has drifted for much of the 20 intervening years though we get the sense he is now settled (and again his current situation is slowly revealed to us).  After 20 years he discovers Adam has written a book that has drawn largely on the description of Rank's early life which he had shared with him one drunken night.

Rank is angry about the book - he feels Adam both invaded his privacy and missed the point.  In other words he told secrets but he also lied.  So he tracks down Adam and sends him this book full of e-mails.  We never see a response from Adam though we are told he only replied to the first few - we never even know if he read the rest.  Through the e-mails Rank reveals his history, his relationship with his father (both past and present) and how he managed to cope with being cast as the enforcer which suited his size but not necessarily his personality.

Well written, the suspense is built in just the right way, the characters are believable and very flawed but still likeable.  I really enjoyed this book.

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