Canadian author Lynn Coady's new novel The Antagonist came out last week. I picked it up because I like the cover (I'm a simple woman). The giant red hand, holding a pen; the little blue person; the green title bridging the two. It's a neat, stylish encapsulation of what the book is actually about: A man discovers that his teenaged self appears as a character in a book his college friend has written. The version of himself he sees in the book strikes him as unfair, mean-spirited, and cruelly reductive; and so he begins emailing his old friend, the author of the book, to correct the record. It's like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, if Rosencrantz was a giant, pissed-off hockey player with violent tendencies.
Gordon Rankin Jr. goes by "Rank"—a nickname he assumes to distinguish himself from his loathed father, though he's startled when he realizes, as a teenager, that he's "basically been asking people to call [him] stinky" his whole life. Rank was a gigantic, thuggish teen whose father used him as muscle to protect the family business, an Icy Dream ice cream stand. But there's a thoughtful, active mind inside of his hulking physique, and in revisiting his teenaged years in emails that are at first angry, and then thoughtful, he packs the book with plenty of insights into religion, class, family, and the ridiculous affectations of adolescent boys.
The novel's epistolary installments are a bit distracting in the beginning, but soon the reader's sympathies align so strongly with Rank that we, too, get pissed off that his friend isn't writing him back. Even more, The Antagonist's structure allows for a great, unusual coming of age story: Coady's pulled off the neat trick of allowing the reader to simultaneously watch the evolution of Rank-the-teenager and Rank-the-man, making for an impressively smart, layered novel.