Don’t worry: Living in Alberta, you’re too far away for me to knock on your door. But you might want to leave that Canada stuff off your bio anyway. Sure, “The Antagonist” was shortlisted for the Giller Prize, but down here we care about that as much as we care about the metric system. Forget your previous four books, too, and all the accolades they’ve received up there. Try passing yourself off as a debut author — we love debut authors!
And, as I said, I love your new book, with its unsettling mixture of comedy and pathos. You can be an incredibly funny writer, sarcastic and profane, right up till the moment when the tragedy below the surface suddenly erupts.
Still, what a tough sell: an “e-pistolary” novel, a whole book composed of e-mail messages from an angry, guilt-ridden man who’s just discovered that an old college friend has written a novel about him. Any number of things could have soured this high-concept project and made it sound cute ;-) or like a tedious postmodern stunt. But you’d already written a sharply funny novel about a poetry class, so I was willing to give “The Antagonist” a try.
How flexible the e-mail form becomes in the hands of your giant narrator. A once-promising hockey star, Rank, as you call him, glides across these pages with remarkable power and grace, turning on a blade from rant to reflection as he crashes through the story of his adolescence, when he did more damage than he can ever forgive himself for.
You’ve created male narrators before, of course, but Rank is a fantastically odd and believable character, a man cursed by a cruel combination of sensitivity and physical brutality. And you’ve captured his relationship with his parents with such raw pain: the way he’s haunted by the loss of his mother and provoked by the adoration of his obnoxious, small-minded father.
What really infuriates him now, though, is that his old college buddy, a quiet, judgmental geek, would dredge up his past, his most intimate, unguarded conversations, and use them to create “a dangerously unbalanced thug with an innate criminality.” That’s a great moment when Rank practically howls, “You have taken something that was mine and made it yours, without even asking.” I could feel his drunken rage as he screams into the computer: “I gave it to you, these intermittent chunks, I pulled off hank after bloody hank of flesh and just handed them over and you were so coy, you averted your eyes and pretended to be embarrassed like the rest of them when really you were squirreling away all those hanks and secretly stitching them together and building Frankenstein’s monster.”