cover image Apartment


Teddy Wayne. Bloomsbury, $26 (208p) ISBN 978-1-63557-400-5

Wayne’s subtle, fascinating novel (after Loner) is set in the world of an MFA creative writing program at Columbia in 1996. The anxious, unnamed narrator didn’t make any friends at New York University as an undergraduate, and considers it equally unlikely that he will find any among the ambitious, self-assured students in his current classes. He’s delighted when charismatic Midwestern scholarship student Billy defends the first story the narrator presents against the attacks of the class, and invites Billy, who has been living in the basement of the bar where he works, to share the two-bedroom apartment the narrator’s great-aunt has been allowing him to live in rent-free. Billy offers to clean the apartment and cook dinners in exchange for the room. At first, the narrator revels in the arrangement, but the balance of power between the two shifts gradually but irrevocably over the months that follow. The narrator, inclined to “airbrush out unpalatable blemishes here and there” in his past and his emotional life, notices and then immediately represses things like the way “the thin ribbed cotton of his white tank top hugged [Billy’s] body like a second skin.” Wayne keeps his attention firmly on the small details that define the evolving relationship as Billy loses interest in the narrator. Wayne excels at creating a narrator both observant of his surroundings and deluded about his own feelings. Underneath the straightforward story, readers will find a careful meditation on class and power. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Feb.)