So over the past month I’ve read a little over a third of The Antagonist by Lynn Coady, a tale of masculinity and bromance prevailing through thick and thin.
Alright, you got me. It is about masculinity, but also about confronting those who have done you wrong. The book centers around forty-year-old Gordon ‘Rank’ Rankin, a man who has recently discovered that his former best friend in college, Adam Grix, has written a book and in doing this, has made him the main antagonist of the novel by taking what he considers to be the most shameful parts of his life and oversimplifying them. He responds by asking Adam one day, totally out of the blue, to review the story that he wrote.
What ensues is a seemingly endless stream of emails about the story of his life, fleshing out the relationship with his emotionally abusive father, the death of his mother, his guilt and trauma, all the while giving small jabs at Adam for being a jerk and traitor for making him look like an awful person.
I won’t lie, I’ve always wanted to do something like that. Condense everything into one whopping message or a series of emails with only me to tell my side. In fact, I started doing that a couple chapters in.
The one thing in this book that really hits home was the emotional abuse of Rank’s father. While he doesn’t state outright that he’s being abused, it’s incredibly prevalent from what I’ve seen so far, and it’s sometimes even maddening. His father — also named Gordon Rankin — is simply referred to as ‘Gord’ instead of ‘dad’ or ‘my father’, and Rank states in one of his emails to Adam that “No Adam, he doesn’t hit. Gord is not a hitter of ladies, he is at heart a courtly little bugger, as I’ve already said. But he sneers. Croft had the smirk, Gord had the sneer, every bit as infuriating to the observer. He berates. He insults.” (Coady 48) But soon after the incident was over, he would bring home ice cream cones from his shop as reconciliation.
The trouble with Gord’s character is that it’s very easy to pin him down as simply an awful person and nothing else; as Adam did with Rank. Through all his awful, loud-mouthed ways, short temperament and soccer-mom tendencies, it’s very hard not to feel bad for him when he seems so happy to talk to a son that clearly (and rightfully) despises him. Gord is not a good dad or husband. He yells at his family, takes out his anger on them, pushes his (often misguided) ideology onto his son and encourages bad behaviour. But to repeat, it’s very hard not to feel a pang of sympathy when he so clearly just wants to connect and relate to Rank, but continually messes it up.
However, I’m not his lawyer. His actions really line up with the cycle of abuse. Particular scenes were especially hard for me to read because of how incredibly real they seemed. The “… tactic from long ago and far away. Gord switches tracks — shifts with stomach-turning swiftness from wrath to bewilderment. Who, me? Loveable old Dad, screaming, making threats? You’re mistaken, sir.” (Coady 97)
See, I’ve met people who do this. They intentionally rile you up or start fights, but the minute they realize that they’re losing or that they look bad, they immediately switch tracks and play the victim while you’re still mind-numbingly angry or upset. It’s a horrible process and an awful thing to do. The worst part is if/when people don’t believe you about how bad the person is, like when one of Rank’s girlfriends stated that “[Gord]’s just a frail, old man!” while he was desperately trying to get her on his side about him. I swear I could hear my heart hit my stomach.
Thanks, Tennant, let’s move on.
Now, this book does a fantastic job of jumping from interval to interval through time without making it seem jaunty or awkward. In his emails, Rank very frequently goes off on long, distracted tangents about other stories loosely related to the one he’s telling that help to paint a better picture of his life.
In fact, that’s something I frequently do.
Due to him frequently getting off-topic and spilling random tidbits about other events in his life, I have to frequently try and guess what the heck is going on and when it even took place. Things like:
– What the heck happened after Rank’s trial for nearly killing Mick Croft? Was he sent to Juvie? Did he have to do community service?
– What in god’s name did he do in college that led him to run from the cops? I swear to god, did he actually kill someone?
I’m a little more worried about the latter, to be honest. Rank describes incidents that sound like PTSD flashbacks or triggers. Incidents where he was absolutely sure that he could hear a boy’s head hit the ice and split open, just like Mick Croft’s did when he nearly killed him despite the fact that the boy had his helmet on the whole time and was unhurt. He also talks about he found the exact quote of what Croft last said to him in a library book and proceeded to have an emotional breakdown. I feel like he would be a lot more traumatized if he actually killed someone, so I’m guessing that he’s going to either commit a crime or just injure someone/himself.
It’s really sad to read about his flashbacks and his guilt. I hope he’s okay.
Yeah, I’m claiming a forty-year-old man as my son. In my defense, the character we get to know is him as a teenager and a young adult.
Anyway, I totally look forward to reading the rest of this wonderful book. This is Katie, signing off.
(Additional information, sources or short blurb, will be posted below)