Against his will and his nature, the hulking Gordon Rankin ("Rank") is cast as an enforcer, a goon -- by his classmates, his hockey coaches, and especially his own "tiny, angry" father, Gordon Senior.
Rank gamely lives up to his role -- until tragedy strikes, using Rank as its blunt instrument. Escaping the only way he can, Rank disappears. But almost twenty years later he discovers that an old, trusted friend -- the only person to whom he has ever confessed his sins -- has published a novel mirroring Rank's life. The betrayal cuts to the deepest heart of him, and Rank will finally have to confront the tragic true story from which he's spent his whole life running away.
With the deep compassion, deft touch, and irreverent humour that have made her one of Canada's best-loved novelists, Lynn Coady delves deeply into the ways we sanction and stoke male violence, giving us a large-hearted, often hilarious portrait of a man tearing himself apart in order to put himself back together.
Canadian author Coady's new novel (after Mean Boy) is composed of letters from Gordon Rankin Jr. to his university pal Adam, a correspondence that began when "Rank" recognized a less-than-flattering portrayal of himself in Adam's recent novel. Angry at seeing his life story pilfered for a forgettable novel make that angry at his life the almost 40-year-old Rank begins e-mailing Adam. His rancor turns into an odd epistolary autobiography, covering his early years in a small town in Canada and his aborted college career, both periods when he got into trouble for violence. (Rank is "genetically blessed" with size.) The prose is sharp and very funny, and some of the characters, particularly Rank's father, Gord, a bitter failure of a man, are deftly etched. 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. But the plot often meanders and the handling of narrative perspectives creates formal questions that are never answered. (At times, a third-person "omnipotent narrator," either the author or someone else with access and hindsight, takes over Rank's first-person duties.) Still, the pathos and humor brought to a challenging life story will appeal to many readers.
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Absolutely brilliant. Wonderful Canadian novel.