The Antagonist Cover
The Antagonist

1. There is a long tradition of epistolary novels, which are composed of letters or rely heavily on them: Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Saul Bellow’s Herzog, to cite just three examples. What is the effect of Rank telling his story through a series of e-mails? Are there any significant differences between a novel in letters and one in e-mails?

2. In what ways does Rank feel Adam has unfairly characterized him in his novel? Why does he find the throwaway lines–like the detail about the rash Rank gets from shaving the space between his eyebrows–so disturbing?

3. To what degree is it dubious or wrong for writers to draw upon their friends’ lives, without their consent, for their fiction? Is using another’s experience, particularly a painful one like the death of Rank’s mother, always an unethical appropriation?

4. On several occasions, Rank justifies his bad decisions–rushing out to help his father with Croft instead of calling the police, or accompanying Ivor on drug deals–by explaining that he was just a kid. At the same time, he clearly blames himself for Croft’s brain injury, his mother’s death, even Ivor’s. To what extent is he responsible for these misfortunes?

5. In what ways does Rank’s physical size determine his fate?

6. When Gord discovers his son is writing a book, he flies into a rage: “All you do is sit around tap-tapping all day long trying to come up with ways to blame your old man for every goddamn thing that’s ever gone wrong in your life” [p. 235]. Is there any truth to Gord’s accusation? Is Rank doing to Gord what Adam has done to Rank? How would Gord likely react if he were to read his son’s depiction of him?

7. Adam stops responding to Rank’s e-mails very early in the novel. Is it likely that he feels chastened by what Rank has written to him? What arguments might he make in self-defense? And why does he so quickly refuse to respond?

8. What is the effect of withholding the specifics of Sylvie’s death until very near the end of the novel? Why might Coady have made this choice?

9. What does The Antagonist suggest about perception and misperception, about resisting expectations based on appearance?

10. Rank writes a great deal about religion, about God and gods, his conversion and apostasy. Why does he find the Greek conception of a pantheon of meddlesome gods who delight in frustrating, punishing, and otherwise tormenting human beings more compelling than the Christian God?

11. Late in the novel, as Rank’s story approaches its dramatic conclusion, he asks Adam: “Do I really have to do this? Why am I even doing this?” [p. 249]. Why does Rank feel so driven to write to the man who has betrayed him? What does he hope to accomplish? Does he find some measure of peace in delivering his own version of the events of his life?

12. Is Rank’s account necessarily more accurate than Adam’s?

13. Why does Kirsten suggest that “you can get addicted to stories the way you can to booze or drugs” [p. 258]. In what ways can stories be addictive? And what sorts of comfort can they provide?

14. Much of the appeal of The Antagonist comes from Lynn Coady’s pitch-perfect characterization of Rank–his voice, as well as his mental and emotional life, feel utterly authentic–and of his friends Kyle, Wade, and Adam. What moments in the novel reveal the depth and subtlety of Coady’s understanding of how young men (and older) think and feel? What are some of the funniest scenes between the four college buddies?

15. At the end of the book, Rank writes: “Let me just stop right here and tell you I am sorry for it all–for offering it up to you, of all people, all that gore and grief. I am heartily sorry for having offended you. . . . Whatever it was I did to you that night, that morning (we both know it was something; I struck a match; I flicked a switch), I’m sorry” [p. 285].  Why does Rank apologize to Adam? Is he sincere? Has his view of how Adam treated him in his novel somehow changed?