Egads. How does a person review a book as complicated and awful and compelling and just . . . gross as Loner: A Novel by Teddy Wayne? I was about 1/3 of the way through it and I just had to read reviews to find out if the author was aware of how fucking vile the protagonist was and if the author understood that he was painting a picture of a terrible stalker-man. Thankfully, the author was indeed aware, as became apparent after reading another 50 pages or so. Now it’s your time to be aware: I’m going to include some tidbits in the rest of this review that will include mild spoilers.
The story is written from a first-person perspective and the narrator is just awful, did I mention that? He meets this girl, nay, he sees a girl across the room, at his Harvard freshman orientation and becomes obsessed with her. Initially the things he does to try to meet / woo her fall within that “it’s sweet in movies / on TV but would be creepy if it were a real life person doing it in real life” category, which is why I wasn’t sure if the author was aware of how not OK the narrators actions were. The entire book was from the narrator’s perspective and he made lots and lots of excuses for the few things he actually knew were fucked up, though most things he didn’t question at all.
OK, y’all want an example: He met the roommate of the girl he liked and then got into a college-serious romance with her. This roommate girl was very nice and liked the narrator very much but he had 0% interest in her and was using her to do weird things like steal snippets of the bathrobe of the girl he was obsessed with so he could put it around his penis like a noose and masturbate? Yeah, it was like that.
Also, holy shit was it overwritten. Initially I blamed the author 100% but Mr. Wayne actually did an excellent job of subtly letting the reader know that he knew how annoying and overwritten the narrator was forcing everything to be; he had other people tell the narrator that he talked like a pretentious, overwrought asshole (paraphrasing here) and the narrator got feedback on a paper that basically said, “yeah, ya got some OK ideas but shit stop it with that overwriting.” This terrible writing thing was certainly a distraction but it also worked to get me in the head of the narrator. Gross.
So, yes, initially, it was just weirdo, creepy stuff but eventually it went straight into sexual assault, stalking, etc. This book was hard to read but I also couldn’t look away from it. Not really in an “I can’t stop watching the train wreck!” way but more of a “I can’t stop staring at this awful man being awful to this woman in a restaurant,” sort of way, which is a lot worse. It was terrible.
Bottom line then: Did I like this book? I have no idea! I mean, no, I definitely didn’t like it but I believe the author was successful in sticking his poor readers into the head of a Men’s Right Activist in the making. I ended up giving the book four stars because, again, it was successful and kept my interest, but I would absolutely not recommend my pals read this book. It was troubling!
Though, it’s also true that I wish all my friends would read this book so we could talk about it. So, there’s that.
P.S. I received a free egalley of this book in exchange for my honest review.