The Antagonist

Brute force

THE ANTAGONIST by Lynn Coady (Anansi), 337 pages, $32.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN

Lynn Coady’s accomplished new novel, The Antagonist, does two difficult things very well.

It makes the basically unsympathetic hero, Rank, a hulk of a man who knows his own strength but can’t stop himself from using it, into someone we can relate to. The book also probes the timeless question of whether anyone can ever control his own story.

Rank’s always been a big guy, able to intimidate everyone but his father, whom he blames for everything that’s gone wrong in his life. True, it was his dad who urged him to assault the punk who’s been bothering the patrons of the family’s fast food franchise – with disastrous consequences – but maybe things aren’t as simple as Rank makes them.

Rank’s personal tale is told mostly via the series of irate emails he’s firing off to his old college buddy, Adam, who’s appropriated Rank’s personal past for his novel.

The genius of Coady’s writing emerges in the way we slowly begin to wonder whether Rank is pissed off that his story has been stolen or if he just wishes Adam had made more of it.

Set alternately in an unnamed East Coast burg and then a university town, the narrative is solid, moving back and forth in time and shifting from Rank’s furious missives to his present-tense situation.

And a backstory in which Rank gives up his hockey scholarship at university because he doesn’t want to play the goon gives us a reason to cheer him on.

It also makes The Anatagonist very much of the moment.

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