Loner by Teddy Wayne

LonerLoner by Teddy Wayne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you scored in the 97th percentile or above on the SAT and took an English Lit class at an elite university, you’ll probably enjoy this book; I’m not sure I can recommend it to anyone else. It is told in the first person by David Federman, a nebbishy virgin from New Jersey who has arrived as a new freshman at Harvard. It is written as though told to Veronica Wells, the rich and stunning fellow freshman object of his affection.

The book’s beginning is almost comically overwritten, so full of imaginative if unlikely similes and metaphors, that one wonders if the author has been saving them all up from his creative writing classes since high school. Sentences are longer than an inaugural address and injected with vocabulary ripped from a championship spelling bee. As I read the prose I felt much like I would watching Joey Chestnut down 73 hot dogs in ten minutes – both disgusted with the excess yet harboring a begrudging admiration. Here’s a sample:

If one were creating the platonic ideal of a woman from scratch, which I could do here, manipulating the facts to serve my narrative agenda, though I’d cleave scrupulously to the truth, she would not necessarily resemble the being that just swept through the common room, whose features I later had time to assess in magnified detail. To begin with: your flaws, a word I sandwich between petrified scare quotes. On the upper third of your forehead connecting your two cerebral hemispheres, a blanched hyphen of a scar.

I challenge you to diagram that first sentence. The book was beginning to take on the air of a self-parody when it started its slow turn into a creepy coming-of-age cliché. David is so obsessed with Veronica (who I think must have been inspired by Archie’s semi-main squeeze namesake) that he begins to date Sarah, Veronica’s roommate. His clumsy, and disturbingly graphic (and definitely unerotic) for my taste, forays into sexual adventure with her were accompanied by his imagining Veronica the whole while. Let’s just say that the book eventually takes a darker turn that, I’ll admit, took me by surprise. The initial overwriting was not unintentional. The cliché was anything but. If sexual grossness is off-putting to you, avoid this, but if you enjoy seeing academia, especially the most pretentious levels, skewered, give this one a read.

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