A provocative and bittersweet illumination of celebrity from the perspective of an 11-year-old pop sensation.
In his second novel (Kapitoil, 2010), Wayne once again sees American culture through the eyes of an exceptional outsider—in this case, a pre-pubescent pop star managed by his mother and exploited by everyone involved with his life and career. As the novel’s narrator, Jonny is a complex character who is both wise beyond his years (in the areas of marketing, merchandising and branding) and more naïve in relating to others his age and the world beyond show business. He seems most at home either onstage or in the video game that becomes a metaphor for his life. And if the novel has a weakness, it’s that Wayne seems a little too fond of the telegraphed punch of such symbolism, as when Jonny must write a paper for his tutor about slavery and discovers (surprise!) that much of what he has learned applies to him. Yet, Jonny is such an engaging, sympathetic character that his voice carries the novel, from what he does know (“that was the whole point of becoming a rock star for a lot of guys. I didn’t know that when I started out, but once you see seriously ugly bassists backstage with models, you figure it out”) to what he doesn’t (crucial details about his mother, father, family and career). Rather than turning Jonny into a caricature or a figure of scorn the way some of his critics do (“a cult of personality swirling around a human being who...may not be in possession of...an actual personality”), the novel invites the reader inside Jonny’s fishbowl, showing what it takes to gain and sustain what he has and how easily he could lose it. Best of all is his relationship with an artist who made it through this arduous rite of passage, the Timberlake to Jonny’s Bieber, who teaches him that “The people with real power are always behind the scenes. Talent gets chewed up and used. Better to be the one chewing.”
A very funny novel when it isn’t so sad, and vice versa.