my tragic right hip

Busting out bad joints all over the place

October 27th, 2011

#77 – Mean Boy by Lynn Coady

After reading Lucky Jim for book club, there was chatter about other “set in post-secondary education” novels and whether or not they were successful. One of the books that was mentioned was Lynn Coady’s Mean Boy. As I’ve talked about earlier, I’ve been on a quest this year to clear off my shelves and get through all the books gathering dust in my life. It’s an impossible task — I’ve been reading my “old” books in a haphazard, semi-alphabetical/dewey-like system since a few months into the RRBB’s life. I was, at first, reading “A” titles from Canada, England, etc., and then gave up and just wanted to power through one country before moving on to another. So, I’ve started with my Canada shelf, and I’m at C now (FINALLY) and have three Lynn Coady novels to get through (four if I add the *new* The Antagonist to the list even though I’ve promised myself that I’ll only read one new book for every one from the TBR pile), which means it’s weeks before I get through just this one particular author, sheesh. All of this rambling is to say that I’m knee-deep in Coady these days. I raced through Mean Boy, am half-way through The Saints of Big Harbour, and had actually started The Antagonist weeks ago before I felt too guilty for not reading all of her backlist. In a lesser writer I’d be frustrated by having to read so many of their books in such a short period of time. Lucky for me then to discover that I LOVE Lynn Coady.

Mean Boy reminded me a lot of Wonder Boys, with its tender mixture of troubled youth and hilarious hijinks, because at the heart of both novels is a deep love for the written word, higher education, and the dangers of hero worship. Set in the 1970s, a heady time for Canadian poetry and literature in general, when the literature as a whole was just coming into its own in terms of a defining style, Larry heads off to a prestigious university in the East Coast (he’s from PEI) specifically to study with Jim Arsenault, an infamous, talented and utterly self-absorbed poet and professor. Larry wants more than anything to be a poet himself but first he must come to terms with his unwavering adoration of Jim. The keen focus of the novel, through Larry’s foibles in setting up readings, in trying to find love, in defending the tenure track of his professor, is hero worship — what happens when the person writing the words you love doesn’t necessarily live up to your expectations from a fundamentally human point of view. How do you separate the art from the artist?

As Jim comes into clearer and clearer focus for Larry over the course of the novel, he grows up (to put it plainly), and Coady’s subtle exploration of what happens to a person when they leave home to attend university squished my heart around in remembrance of my own time doing the same thing. Larry’s awkward, talented, drunk a little too often, and completely, utterly bighearted, qualities that endear him to Jim, but that also allow the mentor to take complete advantage of his protege. The novel isn’t about big things happening in a person’s life — but that change happens slowly, that growth comes at a cost, and that growing up happens when you least expect it. It’s a heartfelt, heartwarming, funny novel and I find it impressive how Coady writes male characters with such assurance. I’m finding the same with the characters in The Saints of Big Harbour, which I’m enjoying even more than Mean Boy, if I’m being completely honest. Coady writes with her heart wide open, I think, when she’s conceiving these characters — her ability to describe them so completely, from the horror of waking up after a drunken night out with your cousin to finally realizing that the man you had admired for so long might not be worth of your admiration keeps the novel humming along even if there’s not a tonne of action happening.

So onwards with my Coady fest!

2 Responses to “#77 – Mean Boy by Lynn Coady”

  • Kailana says:

    Do you know, I have owned this as long as I have known you (you sent it to me, actually) and I could never seem to get into it. I have enjoyed other books by Coady. I actually was looking at her newest book today and thinking I need to make time to read it. When I do, maybe I will backtrack and give this one another try!

  • Melwyk says:

    I really enjoyed this one when I read it quite a while ago…was just thinking of it again this week as I finished up Shari Lapena’s newest, Happiness Economics. The idea of novels about poets appeals to me — both are quite entertaining though quite different.

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Girl with titanium hip will rock. Girl with titanium hip will write. Girl with titanium hip will read. Girl with titanium hip will battle crazy-ass disease called Wegener's Granulomatosis. Now stuff that in your spelling bee!

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