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Book Review

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Lynn Coady, The Antagonist

  • 2013
  • | Publisher: Random House Audio

A funny, subtle, and honest long dark night of the soul, with a Canadian accent.

Gordon Rankin, aka Rank, the protagonist of Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist, has the body of a comic book villain. His huge, hulking physique defines him before he has a chance to understand his own psyche, and so he finds himself overwritten by the expectations of others. Coady is a particularly Canadian writer, and so Rank’s body leads him to that most northern of sports: ice hockey. He excels in the brutally physical role of enforcer, but beneath the mountainous surface lies the heart of an introspective — and guilt-ridden — man.

In the hands of a less gifted writer, this central dichotomy would be saccharine, verging on Nicholas Sparks-level sobcore stuff. Coady, however, frames the novel in an epistolary fashion, with Rank inadvertently bearing his soul to an old college acquaintance he believes has betrayed him by writing a novel that seems to be based on Rank’s life. Over the course of his emails, we’re introduced to his petty (and physically tiny) anglophone father, who only valued Rank for his size, his long-dead francophone mother, and the act of violence he fears has marred his humanity.

There’s a certain pan-anglo-Canadian sense of location in The Antagonist, with specific nods to that culture that will have citizens of the Great White North nodding in recognition but may confuse U.S. listeners. But who cares? It’s a funny, subtle, and honest long dark night of the soul. Those don’t observe geographic borders.

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