A BBC Two Between the Covers book club pick.
Question: what’s worse than being in a wheelchair?
Answer: being a f--k-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 10 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.
I must admit I'm a bit unsure whether this one was a novel or a memoir given that the main character in the book bears the same name as the author. As far as a reading experience goes, I doubt it matters either way. Sad to say I didn't enjoy this one nearly as much as I had hoped to.
Jarred is 26 and in a wheelchair after a car accident that killed an old girlfriend and left him paralysed from the waist down. Our tale flip flops between Jarred present day and Jarred as a young boy of 10 dealing with the death of his mother, and Jarred as an angry teenager, repeatedly butting heads with his alcoholic father.
At 16 he runs away and has no contact with his father until the day he is discharged from hospital and unsuccessfully tries to put himself and his chair under the wheels of a lorry.
There's a lot of sadness, grief, guilt and rage present in every period of Jarred's life.
It's a difficult read in a lot of places. Jarred pre-accident and post-accident is a bit of a tool. Having thankfully survived childhood and adoloscence myself, without the either loss of a parent or by being raised by barely functioning alcoholics maybe I'm not in a position to judge others less fortunate. My own scars are superficial in comparison.
I suppose the book is brutally honest in it's portrayal of Jarred at all periods of his life. Maybe by the end there is a glimmer of hope for a brighter future and some healing. His relationship with his dad is in a better place. He actually calls him dad rather than the dismissive, Jack. His girlfriend, Sarah has helped soften him.
There's a beautiful scene where Jarred actually puts someone else ahead of himself. Sarah's brother, Marco is disabled and Jarred arranges a casino trip for the three of them. The joy this brings Marco is wondrous to behold and was the highlight of the book. Love, laughter, compassion, innocence, trust, warmth and kindness is present in abundance.
I think I liked the second half of the book a bit more than the first. Jarred post-meeting Sarah is more bearable company than previously. I still found it hard to like him though.
Read - February, 2022
Published - 2021
Page count - 313
Source - Net Galley reviewer site
Format - Kindle