Named a best book of the year by NPR, Kirkus Reviews , and BookPage - One of the most anticipated novels of the fall from New York magazine, Glamour , Lit Hub, Boston magazine, The Millions , and BookPage
David Federman has never felt appreciated. Read more...
Named a best book of the year by NPR, Kirkus Reviews, and BookPage - One of the most anticipated novels of the fall from New York magazine, Glamour, Lit Hub, Boston magazine, The Millions, and BookPage
David Federman has never felt appreciated. An academically gifted yet painfully forgettable member of his New Jersey high school class, the withdrawn, mild-mannered freshman arrives at Harvard fully expecting to be embraced by a new tribe of high-achieving peers. Initially, however, his social prospects seem unlikely to change, sentencing him to a lifetime of anonymity.
Then he meets Veronica Morgan Wells. Struck by her beauty, wit, and sophisticated Manhattan upbringing, David becomes instantly infatuated. Determined to win her attention and an invite into her glamorous world, he begins compromising his moral standards for this one, great shot at happiness. But both Veronica and David, it turns out, are not exactly as they seem.
Loner turns the traditional campus novel on its head as it explores ambition, class, and gender politics. It is a stunning and timely literary achievement from one of the rising stars of American fiction.
Publishers Weekly® Reviews
- Reviewed in: Publishers Weekly, page .
- Review Date: 2016-04-04
- Reviewer: Staff
Wayne’s third novel (after The Love Song of Jonny Valentine) is about a Harvard freshman who becomes obsessed with his attractive classmate. David is an intelligent yet largely unremarkable kid from New Jersey, who upon beginning his first college semester, finds himself in the all too familiar situation of being lumped into the second tier socially. But when he spies the pretty Veronica during orientation, he’s not just smitten; he’s determined—at the cost of everything else in his life—to catch her eye: “This was going to be the best year of my life, a Technicolor romp after so many donnish slogs.” David begins dating Veronica’s roommate, Sara, solely to be close to and to spy on Veronica, and by following her around he manages to enroll in her English class, where one day she asks him for help on an essay on the voyeuristic themes of Henry James’s Daisy Miller. David’s efforts and manipulations to get Veronica to notice his devotion grow increasingly discomforting to the reader, a credit to the sly first-person narration. We know something very bad is going to happen, and though some may guess the reveal, the reader is nonetheless compelled to frantically turn the pages. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Sept.)
A dark coming-of-age tale
In Loner, protagonist David Federman has a quirk: When he hears a word or a name, he likes to turn it backward in his mind, reversing the letters so they spell something different. “Star” becomes “rats.” “Pupils” becomes “slipup.” “Lived” becomes “devil.” Most of the words he switches around become incoherent, recognizable only to himself. David’s wordplay comes off as geeky and sweet; he seems ready to bloom in college.
But the shy kid we’re introduced to in chapter one soon grows as twisted and bizarre as his mirrored words. We learn that he views his new friends as disposable pawns and his fellow students only in terms of what they can do for him. The limited interactions he has with girls—with one girl in particular—grow heavy with innuendo and implications in his own mind.
Veronica is the object of David’s affection, and the book grows darker as his choices lead him from crushing on her, to stalking her, to becoming truly frightening in his actions toward her and others. As readers, we’re left off-balance, not quite sure whether Veronica is being played by David, or if she’s part of the game. The fact that the banalities of David’s life are so familiar makes his behavior all the more creepy, and author Teddy Wayne (The Love Song of Jonny Valentine) deftly weaves in literary allusions, to Macbeth and “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” in particular, that add another layer to the narrative.
Loner is a genre mashup—coming-of-age meets thriller—and the result is magnetic. Campus gender dynamics is a hot topic in the media, but Loner takes us back to the very beginning, tracing how small choices and hidden motivations lead to those attention-getting headlines. The reader has a front-row seat as David turns his privilege inside-out, twists the kindness of strangers into something perverse and loses the life he could have lived—and although that journey isn’t always pleasant, it’s incredibly compelling.