The novel made up entirely of letters isn’t a new form. But the email novel is a newer development — not that there aren’t already enough examples of them out there to make writing one a potentially slippery slope ending in a bog of quickly-dated cliche. Fortunately Lynn Coady’s footing is sure: her main character is so memorable that we’d be sucked into his story regardless of what format she chose to tell the story.
Gordon Rankin, or “Rank,” as he prefers to be called, is a hulking ex-hockey player who’s struggled to balance his physical strength, his soft heart, and his rage since his teenage years. His mother dies young, leaving him in the care of his terminally screwed-up, exploitative father, Gord Sr.
Here’s Rank describing his role as a teenage employee at his dad’s ice cream franchise:
After all, I was there to bust punks’ skulls. Gord had made that clear from the moment I started working with him. It’s not that I’d literally bust anyone’s skull, just that I threatened to do it to some random punk pretty much every weekend and, yes, I even got into a tussle or two. The thing is, there were a lot of little shits of the Mick Croft mould who knew Gord couldn’t stand the sight of them and would therefore get liquored up and wander in around closing time precisely for the sport of it.
They’d been banned from the restaurant, which of course my father had every right to do. So he easily could have called the cops to get them kicked out. But Gord didn’t want to do that. He liked to handle these things, he said, “himself.” Meaning getting me to handle them.
A tragedy ensues, sending Rank underground. But then he learns that one of the few college friends he trusted with his full story has written a novel that closely parallels his life, but omits or downplays some important information. [It was interesting to learn via Ron Charles' review in the Washington Post that Coady was confronted by an old friend for using details of her life in her first book.] That’s when the email begins: he writes angrily to the ex-friend/author, determined to explain himself by attempting to steal back his story by retelling it himself. This forces him to relive a lot of the pain and rage, of course, but also buys him some redemption. If this sounds dark, a lot of it is, but Coady is great at mixing enough comedy in to keep it (for me at least) from being overwhelmingly bleak.
author photo: Jaime Hogge