An embittered man blasts an old buddy for fictionalizing his life. But, wonders Coady (Saints of Big Harbour, 2002, etc.), who can know what the facts are?
This novel in emails is told by Gordon "Rank" Rankin Jr., who has just discovered that his life has been turned into fodder for a novel by Adam, with whom he shared a lot of drinks and a few intimacies in college. Now firmly middle-aged, Rank is angry at the perceived betrayal, and his early missives have a threatening tone. But while he doesn’t exactly soften—he exemplifies the book’s title throughout—he does grow expansive, venting about his dead mother, hot-tempered father, squandered hockey scholarship, drinking and more. If Rank isn’t an unreliable narrator, Coady at least makes him a profoundly benighted one, incapable of recognizing that his anger is mainly with himself. That’s revealed in the condescension he expresses about nearly every person he recalls interacting with (besides his sainted mother), and that’s most clearly in evidence with his much-mocked father, nicknamed Gord, who's shallow but by no means a failure as a single father. The novel’s plot turns on a handful of violent incidents that implicate Rank, and Coady expertly renders a man who’s compelled to address his past but not entirely ready to look in the mirror. Like many narrators of questionable stability, Rank gets over on raw intelligence; Coady gives him a wit that makes his anger and smugness tolerable. And bubbling under this story is an interesting tussle with the question of what novelists owe to the experiences that inspire their fiction. Has Adam sold out Rank? We never hear Adam’s side of the story, but Rank’s response (and by extension, the novel) is a caution to tread carefully.
Smartly tuned and as unsettling as it intends to be.