My rating: 4 of 5 stars
From the fall 2010 VPL book sale.
Read in January/February 2013.
The protagonist of Mean Boy is Lawrence (formerly Larry) Campbell, age 19. He’s from Prince Edward Island and is attending Westcock University in New Brunswick. It’s 1975.
The title is ironic. On page 35, he says, “I am trying to be meaner these days…” The highlight of Lawrence’s university experience is the poetry class he’s taking with his hero, poet Jim Arsenault.
Lawrence uptalks, which distresses him. Jim calls him “Larry” which annoys him.
Jim has been denied tenure, much to Lawrence’s consternation (he would have gone to the University of Toronto if Jim hadn’t been at Westcock). He and some of the other students (Todd and Sherrie) in the poetry class decide to write a letter to the admin and get all the students to sign it. The petition feels like a transgressive act to Lawrence and Sherrie.
Meanwhile, there are student/prof drinking-parties at Jim’s house and a poetry reading by Dermot Schofield, Jim’s frenemy + fellow poet, which turns into a comedy of errors. Oh, an awesome subplot featuring Lawrence’s cousin Janet that turns out to be not what you think. Instead, Lawrence learns a lesson about distancing yourself from your family in order to be able to write about them.
In the end, everyone’s flaws are revealed.
I guessed that “Westcock” was actually Mount Allison and a quick search confirmed that supposition to be correct. And it turns out that the character of Jim Arsenault is based on real-life poet/Mount Allison prof John Thompson, which apparently cheesed off some people who knew him. Interesting.
I’ve read all of Lynn Coady’s books prior to this one (Strange Heaven, Play the Monster Blind, Saints of Big Harbour; her latest, The Antagonist, is on my shelf). I read Strange Heaven because it was lauded at the time, and while I thought it was good, I didn’t really get the upop. I had the same feeling with PtMB and SoBH. Good, but missing… something. imo. Obviously others thought they were perfect. But Mean Boy, Mean Boy I loved. The ending gets a little crazy (I can’t seem to escape drug-induced hazes in fiction of late) but I will forgive this because endings are hard.