Wayne’s latest foray into the dark minds of lonely young men follows the rise and fall of a friendship between two aspiring fiction writers on opposite sides of a vast cultural divide.
In 1996, our unnamed protagonist is living a cushy New York City life: He's a first-year student in Columbia’s MFA program in fiction (the exorbitant bill footed by his father) who’s illegally subletting his great-aunt’s rent-controlled East Village apartment (for which his father also foots the bill). And it is in this state—acutely aware of his unearned advantages, questioning his literary potential, and deeply alone—that he meets Billy. Billy is an anomaly in the program: a community college grad from small-town Illinois, staggeringly talented, and very broke. But shared unease is as strong a foundation for friendship as any, and soon, our protagonist invites Billy to take over his spare room, a mutually beneficial if precarious arrangement. They are the very clear products of two different Americas, one the paragon of working-class hardscrabble masculinity, the other an exemplar of the emasculating properties of parental wealth—mirror images, each in possession of what the other lacks. “He would always have to struggle to stay financially afloat,” our protagonist realizes, “and I would always be fine, all because my father was a professional and his was a layabout. I had an abundance of resources; here was a concrete means for me to share it.” And he means it, when he thinks it, and for a while, the affection between them is enough to (mostly) paper over the awkward imbalance of the setup. Wayne (Loner, 2016) captures the nuances of this dynamic—a musky cocktail of intimacy and rage and unspoken mutual resentment—with draftsmanlike precision, and when the breaking point comes, as, of course, it does, it leaves one feeling vaguely ill, in the best way possible.
A near-anthropological study of male insecurity.