A BBC TWO BETWEEN THE COVERS BOOK CLUB PICK
Question: What's worse than being in a wheelchair?
Answer: Being a fuck-up in a wheelchair.
After a car accident Jarred discovers he'll never walk again. Confined to a 'giant roller-skate', he finds himself with neither money nor job. Worse still, he's forced to live back home with the father he hasn't spoken to in ten years.
Add in a shoplifting habit, an addiction to painkillers and the fact that total strangers now treat him like he's an idiot, it's a recipe for self-destruction. How can he stop himself careering out of control?
As he tries to piece his life together again, he looks back over his past - the tragedy that blasted his family apart, why he ran away, the damage he's caused himself and others - and starts to wonder whether, maybe, things don't always have to stay broken after all.
The Coward is about hurt and forgiveness. It's about how the world treats disabled people. And it's about how we write and rewrite the stories we tell ourselves about our lives - and try to find a happy ending.
‘Sings from its first lines . . . unbearably poignant . . . a truly uplifting emotional journey; a tender, wise, brutally funny novel’
‘Written with insight and savage wit . . . it is uplifting because McGinnis is a realist who never tries to sweeten the bitter experience of learning to navigate life in a wheelchair. His characters are vivid and impossible to forget, and he has an underlying optimism about the various ways in which muddled lives shake down and settle into something better’
‘This beautiful book is a testament to the way people can, in spite of everything, reforge shattered emotional bonds and repair seemingly doomed relationships. You won’t find a more uplifting read in these dark times’
‘Laceratingly funny, beautiful and true, true, true – right into its very human and very twisted heart. Read this book’
‘Visceral yet immensely witty . . . The sections describing the immediate aftermath of the crash are incredibly powerful’
‘Both absolutely devastating and ridiculously funny, sometimes within the span of a single paragraph. You'll want to murder McGinnis' mouthy anti-hero and also take him out for several pints. A big-hearted, quick-witted sucker punch of a first novel; readers who like their brutal honesty with a side of hope are really going to love The Coward’
‘Riotously funny . . . the book is also a testament to our ability to forgive’
‘Efficient, bracing and bleakly comic’
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 14 members
What a gripping debut novel! When Jarred survives an horrific car accident which kills Melissa, his first love, he finds himself suddenly confined to a wheelchair. Forced to stop running away from his past, he phones his father Jack, whom he hasn’t spoken to for 10 years. Without questions, Jack brings Jarred home. Told through flashbacks, we learn the painful cause of the estrangement of the rebellious teenager and alcoholic father. Jarred’s anger from his past fuels the frustration of his current predicament and makes a compelling story of the journey to forgiveness and redemption. The reader is also privileged to the candid insights of how society treats people who are not able bodied. Beautifully written with honesty and humour, I couldn’t put this book down.
Thank you NetGallery for an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.
"The Coward" follows Jarred, a young man coping with his newfound disability, as he is forced to confront the convulsive childhood that left his relationship with his alcoholic father, Jack, in tatters.
The novel stands out for its simple, clear prose. It's succinct and brutal at times, much like the content it conveys. McGinnis' ability to maintain this bite, this sharpness of expression marked by the flexibility of feeling, is phenomenal. No character is romanticized, no trait appears without the counterweight of a nagging flaw. It's this artlessness of life, the author's unaffected candor, that speaks most to the human disposition, introducing a level of realism that exposes the story's tenderness.
It's also why following the erratic course of Jack and Jarred's relationship is such a consuming experience; why the pain of each bump is felt on a rational level. Even senseless actions come across as compelling, leaving no motive bent out of shape by the elasticity that differentiates fiction from reality.
By choosing ugliness instead of perfection, McGinnis' characters embrace the crudeness that can be observed in everyday life. But much like Jarred, who ends up bound to a wheelchair against his will, we too are forced to accept the disfigurement of human nature, the self-driven desires and cruelty that rupture relationships.
"The Coward" is an uncomfortable read, but one that is relentless in its ability to engage. Feelings of grief and regret stream down every page, but they're offset by the peculiar weightlessness that allows humans to go on after an emotional cataclysm. The novel's humor dazzles, mainly because of its rarity and impeccable placement. It springs from the page with little subtlety, giving it the deadly feel of a punch line.
The following quote is one of the many examples of McGinnis' use of comedy, "Jack couldn't remember what he ordered so he made up the names", prompting Jack and Jarred to refer to their meals as "Pow Pow Chicken" and "Kung Fu noodles".
Our emotional investment in their relationship is amplified by the story's tendency to leap through time. This gives rise to a multitude of events tethered both to the past and the present, drawing suspense from interpersonal tensions. On top of that, we're shown how Jarred's bipolar disorder perpetuates his self-destructive behaviors but never absolves him of their consequences. By revealing his emotional turmoil, McGinnis points to the tragedy of disaffection, the despair of being misconstrued and villainized.
The one person who sees through these impulses is also the one whom Jarred fights with the greatest ferocity, transforming "The Coward" into an extraordinary tale of the relationships that define us.
This is a gritty and painfully honest read with some difficult subjects covered, such as alcoholism, grief and physical disability. As you would expect this makes it quite a sombre read at times, and yet it somehow manages not to feel depressing.
I actually really liked the character of Jarred. I imagine other readers may have the complete opposite opinion but I do love a flawed character. He's frustrated and angry at the world but this isn't surprising when you consider everything he has been through. Jarred is rude, caustic and self-destructive but there's also goodness in him. He's very sarcastic and the humour can be quite dark at times, but this was something I actually enjoyed.
The exploration of the relationship between Jarred and his father, Jack, was done really well. It was damaged yet the love was still there. Like Jarred, Jack also has many faults and he was desperately seeking forgiveness. What I found hopeful was despite all that had passed between them, they both deep down still wanted to mend their broken relationship. Both characters were believable and although I was frustrated with both of them, I still rooted for a positive outcome. It perfectly highlighted how grief can manifest in different ways and that progress isn't always linear. Whether it's overcoming addiction or learning to ask for help, there may still be setbacks - the important thing is to keep moving forward.
I ultimately found it to be uplifting and hopeful which you probably wouldn't expect in a book with such difficult themes. It's a book that's full of wisdom and shows how people can change if they try hard enough. I really enjoyed it.