Loner by Teddy Wayne

Hello, Loyal Readers! I’ve just finished a sweet-ass book and you’re gonna hear all about it!

Loners is the story of a young man’s first semester at Harvard. Confounded by his own social apathy throughout high school and desperate for acceptance, he ventures out of his comfort zone to start a relationship with the most intriguing and unattainable young woman in his dorm.

That little synopsis up there sounds like American Pie 2, right? Well the dust jacket was a bit more true to the book’s tone. But the title struck me first and foremost and the minimalist cover got me to look at the first page.

SPOILERS FOLLOW, READERS, so do be careful to avoid the struck-through text, won’t you?
Also, Trigger Warning? But I’m not gonna say what–I think it would ruin the book’s effect and message. If you’re somebody who needs to be wary of triggers, maybe just read the spoilers or have a good friend read it and tell you whether you can handle it.

At its surface this book’s action appears to be “birth of a rapist,” but when you dig a little deeper, it’s really the story of two people who do things to one another without consent, but in different ways.

Okay–don’t freak out about this statement–But I identified with David, the main character (I mean, that’s kind of the point of a main character, isn’t it? ). But more than in just a general way, I remember the feeling of futility surrounding friendships with others during college. It’s really hard for some people to be social. I also felt the realness of David’s obsession with his love interest, Veronica. 
Seriously, are there any of us who have NEVER had an obsession with a crush? Most of us just never take it as far as David does. 

I actually liked a lot about this book, and the more I think about it the more I like it. It’s incredibly nuanced.

I’ve started writing this section a few times over, but I’m not sure I have any valid criticism. I feel like I just need to talk about this book’s message to get it out of my head.

Loner deals with some seriously relevant gender issues and it bears reading more than once to realize the extent to which David and Veronica victimize each other. David’s obsession develops from harmless crush into stalking behavior as Veronica accepts his “help” with her assignments and subtly encourages him to do more and more for her. When his stalking reveals that Veronica’s interaction with him was as part of a (highly unethical and unsupervised) experiment comparing him to another suitor. In a response to his feeling of powerlessness, David attempts to empower himself by sexually forcing himself upon Veronica. There’s a lot more going on here showing both our characters in an unflattering light, but I’m just going over broad strokes  to keep it brief. 

I think this ending is especially powerful and relevant because I feel it highlights our evolving gender relationships in America. People feel powerless and victimized, so they victimize others to empower themselves, and begin the cycle anew. I see this happening  a lot in media and even at my own workplace–a representative of each gender will attempt a game of one-up-manship claiming the other gender has it easier/harder because “X.”
But what I’ve surmised from these games is that life really just sucks no matter what’s between your legs. 

I guess my only real criticism is the lack of sympathy with which all characters are portrayed. I know it’s a stylistic choice, possibly to help filter out potential “knee jerk” reactions from readers, but I think it actually neglects to show us the urgent societal pressures our characters face. David, makes VERY bad choices but he makes them because he is desperate for acceptance and to be accepted (in his peer group) as a man means to sleep with many women. Even his parents pressure him to be with women. Presumably, Veronica and even other non POV characters are the recipients of equally compelling, similar pressures. Stripping much of the emotions from the book allows us to feel our own emotional responses to the story, which may help us see how David arrives at his choice in the final act, but I believe it makes the argument of ‘oh these people are broken’ easier for readers to escape to (an argument the book does address, subtly).

Anyway, I’ll shut up now.
If you’re even the slightest bit interested in Gender Politics, you should read this book. If I were a high school or college teacher I might even make it required reading.
So YOU should pick it up, too!

But that’s just my opinion. Got something to say? Leave me a comment–I promise I read them! You can even talk about gender issues as long as you keep it civil! 
And as always, thanks for reading!


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