A stunning—and profoundly disconcerting—take on the campus novel, Wayne’s (The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, 2013, etc.) latest is as dark as it is addictive.
Academically and personally troubled, Harvard freshman David Alan Federman has spent his adolescence on the outskirts of his life. He is, by his own observation, defined not by his presence but by his utter forgetability, his complete absence of notable traits. His own photograph is “a rectangular vacuum of charisma.” At Harvard, though, he's determined to make himself known. It's at a mandatory orientation meeting that he's first captivated by the otherworldly being of Veronica Morgan Wells, paragon of wealth, of elegance, of “worldliness…taste…[and] social capital.” He is suburban New Jersey; she is all Park Avenue, out of his league. Instead, David begins a (relatively) chaste relationship with Veronica’s more-appropriate roommate, a nice, earnest Latin American history major, the kind of virginal Midwesterner he imagines someone like him would end up with. And still, he lives and breathes for the certainty of his eventual relationship with Veronica, intertwining himself in her life at any cost. But as David’s intensity escalates, it becomes clear that Veronica has an agenda of her own. Slowly, and then all at once, the novel artfully snowballs to its arresting (if somewhat abrupt) conclusion, but despite its elements of psychological suspense, the pleasure of the book is not in its ultratimely plot but in its complicated—and unsettlingly familiar—cast. These people are nuanced even when they're disturbing, human even when they're horrendous. A spectacular stylist, Wayne is deeply empathetic toward his characters, but—brutally and brilliantly—he refuses to either defend or excuse them.
A startlingly sharp study of not just collegiate culture, but of social forces at large; a novel as absorbing as it is devastating.