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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon March 16, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
TOP 500 REVIEWERon January 23, 2013
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.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 4, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon May 8, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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-
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon January 19, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I did not like the book at all. Perhaps it is simply a mismatch of material to reader, but I also sense a mismatch of author to material. Much of the problem for me came from what others may see as the author's greatest strength: her uncanny ability to speak through the voice of her rather dislikable male protagonist. So convincing was the tone that I even paused at one point to check the author's gender (I have known men called Lynn too). But no, this Lynn is a woman, and recently the winner of a major prize in her native Canada.

Gordon Rankin (known as "Rank" to distinguish himself from his identically-named adoptive father, known as "Gord") is an orphan of unusual size and strength who, in his early teens, is employed by his father as a bouncer in his Icy Queen franchise. He goes on to do similar work in a less benign enterprise; he seems to be a magnet for trouble, with the strength to meet it head on, but without the wisdom to avoid it. In between, however, there is high school and a short time in college, with some achievements, but also a sickening round of parties, sex, drugs, and booze. Not the kind of character I would normally cultivate.

And surely not Coady's kind of character either? I get the sense that she is so exhilarated by her technical ability to master a voice not her own that she fails to put enough of herself into him. Rank reads to me as a technical exercise rather than a human being. Which is a pity, as there are aspects of the book that suggest much more. Rank's relationship with his mother, for example, a French-Canadian woman who died when he was in his teens. And especially the basic form of the novel itself, which is a series of eMail letters from Rank to Adam Cisek, a former college friend who went on to write a successful novel, putting an edited version of Rank into it as one of the characters; he never replies. Although Adam seems real enough, there is also the suggestion that, in writing to him, Rank is also complaining to God; hearing about this was the main reason why I got the book. But it is not worked out consistently enough to interest me, and I confess to speed-reading towards the end.

Again, neither Rank's moral plight nor his sophomoric complaints really engaged me, perhaps because they never engaged the author beyond the challenge of taking them on. I prefer a Bildungsroman that, well, builds to something. This didn't.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Antagonist is in some respects very good, in others not bad but awkward. The protagonist, a giant ox of a man, in college he played hockey of course, named Gordon Rankin, Jr., aka "Rank." Rank is an alt-Job but also a Behemoth. At fifteen he's bigger and stronger than grown men but inside, he's still a kid. His stepfather hires him at his soft cone place but uses him to scare off troublemakers. That's where Rank's run of awfully bad luck really starts (unless you count whom he got as a stepfather). Rank gets into a faceoff with an eighteen-year-old wise guy and leaves him lying on the pavement with a near fatal concussion. He's saved from imprisonment by a social worker. The social worker also coaches hockey and Rank turns out to be a natural at it. Hockey gets him to college, with a scholarship, no less. In college, he discovers he's got a brain but everyone around him still sees him as "Rank," the man monster who chugs brews, crushes beer cans or worse, and generally acts out the role of class clown and brute. His world finally crashes -he quits the hockey team, loses his scholarship, leaves college and goes home after one final catastrophic night, determined to make as small a profile of himself as he can in an effort to avoid causing more bad things to happen.

Then a college buddy writes a book. In its pages, Rank finds himself described, with painstaking accuracy. Disclosures he'd made only to this friend are laid bare. He feels betrayed so he sends him an email. Thus starts the one-sided `correspondence' that constitutes this book. It's all Rank, writing as impulse hits him and, amidst rants, laying out the backstory of his sad life.

What does the author do well in this ambitious and only partly successful novel? She captures with great fidelity and tone of the life and preoccupations -insecurities especially--of college age boys, especially the ones more obviously riding on waves of testosterone. She makes us care about Rank, for all of his unattractive acts and traits. The book is often witty. And in her characterization of Gordy, Rank's unwittingly obnoxious stepfather, she has created a strong comic character. All that is to the good.

What works less well? The epistolary structure, for one thing, and that Rank is the only one who speaks. I like the idea of Rank's history gradually revealing itself, I found the telling of it in this novel both convoluted and slow. I'm not opposed to the slow unveiling of truth but the rest of what rank writes about seems relatively jejune. Lastly, she has Rank write in the first person "I" in some chapters, in the third person "Rank" in others, and I couldn't figure out a strong reason why. Whatever the reason, I didn't find it improved things.

Still and all, this is a worthy effort by a talented author.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on May 23, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
First person narratives can be unobtrusive or all about the narrator. In the case of the former, the narrator is often a minor character like Nick in The Great Gatsby. But in the case of the latter, the narrator must carry the burden of inviting the reader into his story and entertaining the reader with his perspective and his meditation on self. This is not the easiest move to pull off. The fact that so many books are compared to The Catcher in the Rye shows the power of Holden Caulfield in the mind of the readers who have been entranced, disturbed and annoyed by Salinger's teenage protagonist with a bad attitude and a psychosis.

I found the narrator of this book to be compelling, sweet and exasperating. Ultimately he is a fascinating character which gets the reader over the points where his complaints sound more like whining and righteous anger. This is the best kind of fiction where the narrator sets out with a purpose only to find himself instead.

But not everyone is going to like Rank or find his personality interesting enough to stick around with. Still, it's worth the effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 1, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a highly entertaining novel by a promising young Canadian writer. The novel unfolds as a series of emails the protagonist writes to an author who, he believes, based a character on him. It is great to see that the epistolary genre is being revived, and that it is being done in such an intelligent, nuanced, engrossing way. The novel is written with a great sense of humor and in a beautiful, memorable writing style. This is a profound exploration of identity, manhood, friendship, and loss.

Gordon Rankin, the novel's protagonist, is brought face to face with the need to reevaluate his life as he discovers that a book by his old college friend features a character who is very similar to Rankin himself. Books and movies that discuss men in the throes of a midlife crisis abound but THE ANTAGONIST stands out as a result of its sly humor and original structure.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon November 20, 2013
Format: HardcoverVine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
An old friend writes a book. You buy a copy to read, and discover that the main character is based on you......and it is a less than flattering picture. In fact, you feel like he got the story all wrong, and the circumstances are confused. What do you do? Contact him to explain what really happened, ignore it and hope no one finds out you are the character? ; or figure that it doesn't matter and get on with your life?

The subject of the book then decides to confront his old friend, the author, by email. ALOT of emails, so you are now basically reading a one sided argument/discussion of what happened. It's convoluted and slogs along slowly, I had a terrible time actually getting through it, it felt like a real chore. That's a shame, because it's really a great idea for a story, just not this story and not this method of sharing it.
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