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The Antagonist Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 22, 2013

3.8 out of 5 stars 51 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Forty-year-old Gordon “Rank” Rankin discovers that a close friend from university days has used him as a primary character in a novel. Infuriated by Adam’s portrayal of him as a teenager, Rank begins to blister Adam with angry e-mails to set the record straight and, ultimately, to come to terms with Ranks own deeply conflicted feelings about himself and his life. Coady, 28, is a rising star in Canadian fiction, and she has turned the very neat trick of engagingly, entertainingly, and insightfully examining the predicament of a boy of 14 (the young Rank) whose growth spurt unexpectedly places him in a large, powerful man’s body. Suddenly, Rank looks dangerous, and people, including his splenetic father and, later, his university hockey coach, want to make him their “enforcer,” a role Rank doesn’t want to play. His e-mails evolve from clumsy rages to thoughtful, measured ruminations on crucial events in his life, and he becomes a genuinely fascinating character. But it is Coady’s ability to realistically portray Rank’s teens and university years and empathically conduct his search for self that makes The Antagonist more than just entertainment. It’s deservedly long-listed for Canada’s prestigious Scotiabank Giller Prize. --Thomas Gaughan

Review

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

“Coady’s fluency in the language of the college boy [is] impressive, [as is] her feel for the camaraderie that is inseperable from rivalry and masculine aggression.” —The New Yorker
 
“Dear Lynn Coady:  As I said, I love your new book, with its unsettling mixture of comedy and pathos…incredibly funny, sarcastic and profane, right up till the moment when the tragedy below the surface suddenly erupts….  It’s an extraordinarily clever and sympathetic exploration of the cross-currents of male friendship, the intense relationships we make and abandon in school.  How ill-fitting those intimacies feel years later whenever a college reunion or some chance encounter forces us to try them on again.” —Ron Charles, The Washington Post
 
“A self-justification fueled by rage ends as an endearing journey of self-discovery…  Nominated for Canada’s Giller Prize, this very human drama, laced with humor and insight, is strongly recommended.” —Barbara Love, Library Journal

“A dramatic and funny confessional in reverse.” —Marie Claire
 
 “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 engertainment.” —Booklist
 
“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

“Coady is an ambitious writer, exploring themes of masculinity, religion, and the perils and promise of the fictional enterprise, and her decision to write from the male perspective is brave and successful….The pathos and humor brought to a challenging life story will appeal to many readers.” —Publishers Weekly
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (January 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307961354
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307961358
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.2 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,355,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By mateo52 VINE VOICE on March 16, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine 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.
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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.
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Format: Hardcover Vine 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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Format: Hardcover Vine 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.
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