Originally published: 1 July 2021
Author: Jarred McGinnis
Published by: Canongate Books
Page count: 320
Reading dates: 3-26 November 2021
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.
The Coward begins with Jarred finding himself in hospital after an accident which left a woman, who the hospital think is his girlfriend, dead. Jarred is paralysed and when the hospital tell him they are discharging him, he has no choice but to call his dad Jack, whom he hasn’t spoken to in ten years.
To be fair, Jack takes seeing his son again and his disability quite well. Jarred’s mum died when he was just a child and Jack fell apart, drinking more and more while unsupervised and angry, Jarred went off the rails, before being sectioned and then running away from home. The two men must learn to live together and to forgive each other.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Coward but my goodness, it was a brilliant read. It is so good to have a disabled character in a story and while the story details Jarred’s disability, the work it takes for him to be able to live a semblance of a normal life and the problems with being in a wheelchair, it is so much more than that. In flashbacks we see Jarred’s childhood, how much he loved his mum and how devastated he is when she dies. At the beginning of the book, my sympathies lay with Jack – he is a lovey man, patient and encouraging to the often difficult Jarred, taking him back into his home without hesitation. But as the book progresses, in flashbacks, we see a different side to Jack when Jarred was a child and we can understand his anger with his dad and why he left.
There is so much humour in this book – I loved the interactions between Jarred and Jack – both were very funny and I liked to use dark humour to improve the situation.
I haven’t seen this book about much but it was fabulous and I urge you to read it. It was featured on the fabulous BBC 2 show Between the Covers and I’d urge you to check out the episode and hear what they thought about it too! McGinnis is a talented writer who has written a accomplished novel. Thank you so much to Canongate books for sending me a copy of The Coward and inviting me on the readalong.
About the author:
Jarred McGinnis’ debut novel ‘The Coward’ is published by Canongate (July 2021). Recently chosen by Kei Miller as one of the UK’s ten best emerging writers.
He is the co-founder of The Special Relationship, which was chosen for the British Council’s International Literature Showcase. He was the creative director for ‘Moby-Dick Unabridged‘, a four-day immersive multimedia reading of Herman Melville’s ‘Moby-Dick’ at the Southbank Centre, involving hundreds of participants.
His short fiction has been commissioned for BBC Radio 4 and appeared in respected journals in the UK, Canada, USA and Ireland. He is or has been an Associate Writer for Spread the Word, a mentor for the Word Factory, a fellow of the London Library’s T S Eliot Emerging Writer Programme and a Writer-in-Residence for First Story.
He also has a PhD in Artificial Intelligence, but mostly he inspires the able-bodied by using public transport and taking his daughters to the playground.