“Riveting and often hilarious” – The Coward by Jarred McGinnis

IMG_2022-6-29-091947I’ve always been a firm believer that the best literature is miserable. Think about it. How many of your favourite books are about clear skies or rainbows, and how many are about ravaged landscapes or hospital wards? How many are about happily ever after and how many are about death on the final page? It’s okay. Admit it. We are all right there with you – the best stories are sad stories. Sad as fuck. So on initial inspection, The Coward looks like it will definitely fit that bill. This is story of an addict who loses the use of his legs in a car crash – a car crash which also kills his ex-girlfriend, lands him at risk of prosecution, and sends him home to live with a father he hasn’t spoken to in ten years. Jesus. Misery on toast, right?

In reality, though, The Coward tests my theory of ‘misery is best’ almost all the way through. Starting from a place of pure tragedy, this is actually a book which works its way to joy. When lead protagonist Jarred moves home to live with Jack, the father he refuses to call dad, we are led through memories of the many altercations and struggles that ruined their relationship, but we also work our way through the various ways in which they patch it back together. And as Jack becomes Dad again, we also see Jarred begin to find semblances of meaning in his new way of life that he could never find in the old way. Nothing is easy for him, but here he is, muddling through and trying to find a way.

Despite the many bumps on the road that the narrative provides, this is definitely one of the more uplifting novels I remember reading. Making it even more interesting is the fact that I am not sure if it’s a novel or a memoir. It is very much marketed as fiction, but the eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that the protagonist has the same name as the author. On the opening page of my proof copy, there is also an uncredited quote which reads ‘the distance between fiction and memoir is measured in self-delusions.’ This indicates, to me at least, that there is a fair amount of truth to this tale. And while that makes it even more tragic, it also makes it even more uplifting.

Any Cop?: It was a rare treat for me to read a book that started at a low and built to a high. In the end, the idea that this book had a miserable basis and created a strong narrative case for the things that make our lives feel worthwhile made it work in new and interesting ways. And whether this is fiction or memoir, Jarred McGinnis has created a host of fascinating, involving, and relatable characters in the middle of a riveting and often hilarious story.

Fran Slater

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