By Jarred McGinnes
What a breeze of a read! Jarred McGinnes’ debut is concise and cutting on every page, darkly witty, and all encompassing. Unputdownable.
The Coward tells the story of Jarred McGinnes – not the author, but instead a self-described fuck up. Jarred of the story was once a bright eyed but sometimes troublesome child. By the time we see him in the narrative, he is a vagrant traveling the US, relying only on himself, distancing himself mentally and physically from who he knew as his drunk, abusive, asshole father Jack. When Jarred is involved in a car crash, he is not only traumatised and hounded by guilt by the death of a complicated married woman and ex-paramour Mellissa, but he is terribly injured and bound to a wheelchair from there on out. With no real friends to rely on, Jarred calls his father to come and collect him from the hospital. It is the first time they see each other in ten years, and the pair embark on a challenging journey of reconnection, remembering, and ultimately, forgiveness of the self and the other.
Jarred (not the author) isn’t all that likable. He’s frustrating and arrogant and I spent much of the novel wishing he’d shut up and stop being shitty. But he is redeemed by his self-awareness and by a VERY subconscious want to be better – he is undeniably a character with an abundance of heart, coupled with an abundance of emotional unintelligence. He is still living with the scars from his tattered childhood, from his runaway in his formative years; he spent much of his teens pre-runaway yo-yoing between healthiness and improvement, and depression and rage. When we see his potential and view him in moments of vulnerability, the scenes where he connects and understands, we as a reader genuinely want to see him do better, and for his life to mend.
Jarred is supported by his father Jack, who is a quiet, heartbroken romantic that you won’t want to root for: early on we learn that he spent a lot of time physically fighting his young son, and not a lot of time being sober. Still, he manages to become a comfort character who oozes and aches with inherent softness. Jarred meets love-interest Sarah, a quirky individual whose character is wounded by how much shit she is willing to put up with re: Jarred. She consciously recognises the red flags that Jarred emanates but still gives him chance after chance. I’m afraid that I don’t quite get her or her love for Jarred, and maybe would have liked to learn more about her, but ultimately the story isn’t about her; I’m not so thirsty for her as I am so thoroughly quenched by Jarred’s story.
Ultimately I loved reading this book; I really itched to get back to it when I wasn’t reading it. Learning about it from Jarred McGinnes himself before reading it enriched my experience, and I recommend seeking him out to learn more about his process of writing; why did he insist on naming the book The Coward? Why name his unlikeable main character after himself? The story alone does not depend on this outside information, but McGinnes is surely an emerging author to keep an eye on.