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The Antagonist [Hardcover]

Lynn Coady
2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 3 2011

Winner of the 2012 Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction and shortlisted for the 2011 Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Against his will and his nature, the hulking Gordon Rankin ("Rank") is cast as an enforcer, a goon -- by his classmates, his hockey coaches, and especially his own "tiny, angry" father, Gordon Senior.

Rank gamely lives up to his role -- until tragedy strikes, using Rank as its blunt instrument. Escaping the only way he can, Rank disappears. But almost twenty years later he discovers that an old, trusted friend -- the only person to whom he has ever confessed his sins -- has published a novel mirroring Rank's life. The betrayal cuts to the deepest heart of him, and Rank will finally have to confront the tragic true story from which he's spent his whole life running away.

With the deep compassion, deft touch, and irreverent humour that have made her one of Canada's best-loved novelists, Lynn Coady delves deeply into the ways we sanction and stoke male violence, giving us a large-hearted, often hilarious portrait of a man tearing himself apart in order to put himself back together.


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Review

[Lynn Coady] has a hearty wit and a piercing understanding of human nature . . . [she] has made herself one of our essential writers. (Jeet Heer Quill and Quire 2011-08-01)

The Antagonist could have not have come at a better time. In our fast, media-saturated world, this novel gives the reader the refreshing and increasingly rare opportunity to take a closer, more compassionate look at someone wrongly judged by his outer shell. (Heather Leighton Rover Arts 2011-07-31)

. . . thoroughly engrossing. . . a breathless and frequently hilarious narrative . . . one of the freshest voices in years. (Zoe Whittall FASHION Magazine 2011-09-01)

. . . a richly comic creation . . . a revealing effort in cross-gender empathy. (Joel Yanofsky Montreal Gazette 2011-09-02)

A deft blend of farce, tragedy and wry social comment, The Antagonist is no mean feat. (Barbara Carey Toronto Star 2011-09-03)

. . . far more complex than the hilarious one-liners that make her work so irresistible to read. (Margaret Gunning Edmonton Journal 2011-09-03)

In this coming-of-age tale, male friendships and relationships are explored in all their goofiness and complexity . . . [Lynn Coady is] one of Canada's best writers of fiction. (Dana Medoro Winnipeg Free Press 2011-09-03)

. . . a readable, quixotic coming-of-age story, a comedy of very bad manners, and a thoughtful inquiry into the very nature of self. It’s the sort of novel -- and Coady the sort of writer -- deserving of every accolade coming to it. (Robert J. Wiersema National Post 2011-09-09)

. . . by turns angry, funny, tender and sad . . . The Antagonist is a full-bodied work of fiction. (Giles Blunt Globe and Mail 2011-09-09)

The Antagonist is a crafty, technically-accomplished series of meditations on subjects ranging from manhood and self-knowledge to tricky father-son relationships. (Brett Joseph Grubisic Vancouver Sun 2011-09-16)

Unhinged at times, cathartic, lyrical and brave ... the reader must simply sit back and enjoy. (Nathaniel G. Moore Rabble 2011-10-06)

... [a] strong new comic novel. (Michael Bryson Winnipeg Review 2011-09-26)

Sentence for sentence, Lynn Coady is one of the most dynamic prose stylists in Canadian letters. (Andre Mayer Walrus 2011-12-01)

[Lynn Coady] is entering old-pro territory ... (Laurie D Graham Malahat Review 2012-01-30)

Only a writer as wonderfully gifted as Lynn Coady could elicit such extraordinary sympathy for a character as full of self-destructive rage as Rank, her main character. You won't soon forget either him or this haunting novel. (Richard Russo 2012-10-10)

...sharp and very funny...the pathos and humor brought to a challenging life story will appeal to many readers. (Publishers Weekly 2012-12-01)

A genuinely fascinating character [whose] emails evolve from clumsy rages to thoughtful, measured ruminations on crucial events in his life...But it is Coady’s ability to realistically portray his teens and university years and empathetically conduct his search for self that makes The Antagonist more than just entertainment. (Booklist 2012-12-01)

Smartly tuned and as unsettling as it intends to be...Coady expertly renders a man who's compelled to address his past but not entirely ready to look in the mirror [and her novel] is a caution to tread carefully. (Kirkus 2012-12-01)

... a stunning new novel. Coady's writing is witty and sensitive... this is a fantastic book that shouldn't be missed. (Nicholas Mancusi Daily Beast/Newsweek 2013-01-22)

...[a] clever and sympathetic exploration of male friendship. (Ron Charles Washington Post 2013-11-22)

About the Author

Lynn Coady is the author of the bestselling novel The Antagonist, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, as well as the novels Mean Boy, Saints of Big Harbour, and Strange Heaven and the short story collection Play the Monster Blind. She has been shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour, and has four times made the Globe and Mail’s annual list of Top 100 Books. Originally from Cape Breton, she now lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where she is a founding and senior editor of the award-winning magazine Eighteen Bridges.

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Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book I wish I could write Dec 24 2011
By J. Teal
Format:Hardcover
The beauty of this book is the internal dialogue and cadence. It is simply the best book I've read in the last two years. Unfortunately, it took me a LONG time to pick it up because the cover art did not speak to me at all. LUCKILY, I read several reviews by writers I admire - those compelled me to purchase. I am so glad I took their advice. Its taking me a long time to finish this book because I keep re-reading sentences! If you know quality writing, you must MUST read this book.
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1.0 out of 5 stars I kept waiting.... Jan. 12 2014
By Miranda
Format:Kindle Edition
I kept waiting for this book to pick up but it never did. Ater describing and setting the stage for the main character's angst, the end is anti-climactic and the character seems blase about the whole thing. I had a hard time finishing it and found it lacking.
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7 of 21 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I couldn't finish it... Nov. 30 2011
By VR
Format:Hardcover
I gave this novel an honest try - but found it so incredibly boring & fictional.

I had an extremely difficult time getting over the narrator's whiny tone. But what really convinced me to stop reading was when I realized the narrator was a 40-some year old with obvious "daddy-issues", who spoke like he was still 15.

Completely unrealistic tone & there was nothing that drew me in to entice me to read more.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  51 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real slapshot March 16 2013
By mateo52 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Just imagine yourself scrolling through the literary fiction titles on Amazon, or perusing the racks at a B&N - if one of the outlets remains open in your community - and coming across a new release written by a ghost from your past. Checking out the back cover photo, you discover although the years have engorged your old pal with a little extra girth, there is no doubt the author is your former classmate and as luck would have it, past confidant. Scanning through it, you rapidly realize while your friend may have the privilege of authorial license there is little question it is essentially an uncomplimentary roman à clef based on his perceptions of you. I don't know about the next guy, but I know in my case impassioned or antagonistic might be among the tepid descriptions of my emotional reactions, although who really deserves the attribution of antagonist might be debatable.

Thirty-eight year old ex- college hockey player Gordon "Rank" Rankin, Jr. finds himself in a comparable state as a chance encounter with another former classmate puts him on the path to discovery of a novel penned by Adam Grix, who we eventually come to understand was easily his closest friend during their first two years of college...or university since we're talking about Canada here. The plot of Adam's novel is never explained but based on Rank's reaction, it's evident thematically he was the inspiration for one of the major characters. He decides to reestablish contact with his old buddy via Facebook where nearly all authors with an ego (and let's be real here, name one that hasn't) have created pages in anticipation of effusive, complimentary messages from adoring fans and see if Adam, who we will discover as the story plays out may or may not have been precisely the introverted bookish, manipulative weasel Rank first presaged him to be amongst their college fraternal quartet of friends, is willing to take a look at a little piece Rank claims to have written.

But, as envisioned by author Lynn Coady in a variation of the epistolary form employing emails as his communicative connection, Rank's true objective is to set the record straight while secondarily launching some vitriolic missives aimed at his `ole buddy,' with his father often the victim of collateral damage. As a result, his emails over the course of one summer are equally haphazardly submitted and entirely unanswered by his presumptive correspondent. His messages are expansive in context and tone, periodically rambling and discomforting yet deceptively cogent and coherent when evaluated over the course of the book.

Rank is resigned to taking personal inventory, addressing and answering the questions about ourselves we seldom want to examine; acknowledging his reluctant outward acceptance of the role of man-child thrust upon him by nearly all external interactions due to his early physical maturation whilst emotionally and psychologically his genuine aspirations were to follow a very different path. Author Coady imbues him with first rate cynical abilities which he aims at himself and his recollections of most of the other characters he refers to in his emails.

The narration of the book reminded me of Russian nesting dolls as within the body of the emails, the narrative migrated between third, first and at times, second person. The emails commenced with the feel of merely another tale of college excesses related by an omniscient observer. The absolute beauty of it is how Coady integrates and actually highlights the transitions of narration to the point of pulling back the barrier to the fourth wall.

As it is Rank's rebuttal and with the confrontational nature at the outset, what he thought would be his retaliatory foray against what he intuitively believed to be a violation of an implicit trust, only a few of the characters alluded to are fully developed or did I feel they needed to be. I felt like I knew of and had had personal experiences with every single character in this book: Rank's friends, his parents, the girlfriend he only talks of reluctantly, the morally principled social worker/hockey coach, the hometown reprobates, the detritus at the college townie bar and most vividly, Rank, himself. As he begins to lose sight of his original intent - if he ever had a cogent vision of it -he does begin to compose a novel or at more appropriately, his memoir, an exsanguination obviously a long time coming.

The result is an exemplary novel by Lynn Coady who deserves all of the accolades she has received and certainly wider readership.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stealing a life (4.5 stars) Jan. 23 2013
By TChris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The Antagonist is based on an intriguing premise: How would you react if you recognized yourself as a character in a book that someone you know has authored? "There he was, the character I knew to be me, 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."

First published in Canada in 2011, The Antagonist is written as a series of autobiographical emails from Rank to Adam. Unhappy that Adam's novel depicts him as an "innate criminal" -- Adam, according to Rank, is "vampiring the good and the real out of people's lives" -- Rank, approaching forty, decides to tell his own story, in which Adam plays a prominent and unflattering role.

Rank's story starts with Gord, his embittered father, who, as a matter of pride, unwisely invested in an Icy Dream franchise instead of a Java Joe's. Gord's efforts to make a living are hampered by his desire to banish punks (i.e., teenagers) from the restaurant. Rank's father has anger management issues, unlike his mother, who died when Rank was sixteen and remains perfect in his memory. The circumstances of that death, revealed late in the novel, have a profound impact on Rank, and he is particularly enraged that Adam's novel reduced his mother to nothingness with an off-handed comment about her death.

After Rank has a growth spurt at fourteen, most people regard him both as a man and a thug, while his father delightfully assigns him to work as a bouncer at Icy Dream. Based on a punch to the face that leaves a punk brain damaged, Rank finds himself in juvenile court -- and Adam finds a character he can paint as a criminal. That act of violence becomes a defining moment in Rank's life -- he can't read T.S. Eliot without being reminded of it -- making it easy to understand why Rank is upset to see it glorified in Adam's novel.

Much of the novel is about Rank's relationship with three friends (including Adam) during his college years. Adam and his dope smoking friends, the reader suspects, become Rank's replacement for hockey (a scholarship sport until he walked away from it), his connection to something larger, and Adam becomes his silent confidante, always listening but never sharing. Of course, confiding in Adam is what produces the series of emails that Rank spews forth after he reads Adam's book.

Telling his story gives Rank a chance to explore his first serious romance and to search for his former girlfriend (who was, at the time, a devout evangelist) on Facebook. It gives him the opportunity to better understand his self-centered friend Kyle, as well as Rank's acerbic father, for whom he is now caring. It makes him come to terms with the unintended consequences of two violent events in his life, with his mother's death, and with his own mortality. Finally, having blown off steam, it gives him a chance to consider whether Adam's book is, in the grand scheme of things, all that meaningful.

The Antagonist has some features of a coming-of-age novel, although the moral growth and character changes that are so much a part of that genre are muted. To the extent that Rank changes, it is in reaction to the process of reflection as he authors his emails. Maybe it would be best to describe The Antagonist as a coming-of-age-in-middle-age novel, although what Rank experiences is more catharsis than maturation.

However the novel might be categorized, it is a sensitive and insightful examination of what it means to a child in an adult's body, a person who is instantly regarded as a brawler because he looks like one, a kid who never has to grow up because, from the age of fourteen, he's living in an adult body and is treated accordingly. Lynn Coady explores the role that expectations play in shaping a young adult's life, and the difficult road a young adult must follow if he chooses to resist those expectations.

The Antagonist is written in energetic prose that reflects Rank's desire to unleash his anger and frustration. It's a powerful story but one that is rich with humor and compassion. If I could, I would give The Antagonist 4 1/2 stars.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Antagonist May 4 2013
By Brendan Moody - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Lynn Coady's new novel has a neat premise. Gordon Rankin Jr, known as Rank, was horrified to discover himself fictionalized in a novel by an old college friend, so he's decided to send that old friend an insistent series of e-mails in which he'll tell the real story that Adam Grix left out. The issues of writerly ethics that this brings up are complicated and important, but Coady is less interested in them than in Rank's tragic story and his defiant, mocking, yet yearning voice. The epistolary format fades pretty quickly into the background, and deservedly so, as it's a little hard to believe that someone with Rank's educational history would write the way he does. What's never hard to believe, though, are Coady's pitch-perfect portrayals of the key relationships in Rank's life: with his domineering, cantankerous father Gord, and with Adam and the other members of their social circle. She has a keen eye for how fathers and sons can be just the right combination of alike and different to get on each other's nerves, and for how certain young men bond and express emotional ups and downs indirectly without abandoning the immature, "masculine" behavior that leads some to imagine they don't have emotional lives. Add in a sharp sense of humor, and you get a vivid, thoroughly enjoyable portrait of the forces that shaped one early twenty-first century man, and the degree to which he has or has not escaped them. THE ANTAGONIST is a small masterpiece of character study.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "It's funny how it's the memories of shame that hang on longest." May 8 2013
By Gregory Baird - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
After finishing Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs, I'm now two for two with books propelled by rage. Unfortunately for The Antagonist, it pales in comparison to the sublime, burning anger of The Woman Upstairs. To be fair to Lynn Coady, that's where the similarities end, and I wouldn't dream of comparing her novel to a different one that just happened to share a similar pub date. It was just one of those coincidences.

Gordon Rankin, Jr (aka Rank) is furious. The object of his rage is Adam, a former college friend he hasn't seen in twenty years or so. Adam just published a novel receiving some modest acclaim--a novel that Rank believes is about him. A novel that he feels distorted the truth about his life. Now he wants Adam to know just what he thinks about what he did--not to mention a chance to set the record straight about his life. So he tracks down Adam's email address and begins sending him email after email.

Part of the problem with The Antagonist is that it can't sustain the rage. Ultimately, that's kind of the point here, so it seems unfair to fault the novel for it. Still, since the entire pretense is that Rank is compelled to write all this to Adam because of how angry he feels, it's a big disappointment that the fire flames out so darned quickly.

In fact, the narrative itself has a very tough time getting going because Rank, as a narrator, just can't seem to get out of his own way. There are numerous false starts and digressions. Coady tries to turn it into a joke--or at least a sort of meta-commentary about the difficulties of telling your story and remaining honest. That could have been a brilliant idea, but in the end it just feels like inept storytelling more than anything else. And the fact that there may be a few smart observations about storytelling and self-discovery is undermined when it becomes too bothersome to care about if and when Rank will ever get to the point. Rank tries to set up his story as a tease, repeatedly promising a big reveal at the end. But the reveal isn't actually surprising (let alone devastating) because you've been cued to expect it all along, which makes the teasing more of an annoyance than anything else.

There are also structural problems in the form of the emails themselves. Each "chapter" is a single email from Rank to Adam, but where they stop and how they begin is disjointed. Many of them don't have a logical ending-point for someone writing an email; instead, they end at the perfect spot for a chapter break (or just stop). Rank is deliberately, openly, defiant when it comes to piecing his narrative together in a form that makes sense. There's nothing wrong with that--plenty of novels defy the conventional chronology to splendid effect (Gone Girl: A Novel being a very popular, effective, and recent example). But here the structure isn't compelling so much as it is irksome.

There are clever moments here and there. Coady has a delightfully sarcastic sense of humor. But I just couldn't get into The Antagonist.

Grade: C-
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Reading a one-sided email conversation Jan. 19 2013
By brian d foy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product
Having discovered that a high school friend has written a book that includes stories from Rank's life, Rank writes a series of unanswered emails to the author to explain the story. We don't get to see the story that Rank responds to and it takes a big portion of the book for it to start to make sense. The first third of the book drags.

The expository technique, telling the story through email, just feels wrong. I find it hard to believe anyone would write like that in email. I could believe that someone would dictate that story or tell it to a therapist. Since the emails are given dates and times, I find it hard to believe those email came out like that on the first go with no editing. I tend not to like these new-fangled novels that try to update the diary idiom in this way. It's just not for me.
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