cover image The Great Man Theory

The Great Man Theory

Teddy Wayne. Bloomsbury, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-63557-872-0

Paul, the snippy academic protagonist of Wayne’s alternately crushing and tedious latest (after Apartment), is having a rough go of it. He’s toiling as an adjunct, has to move in with his mom in the Bronx, is being pushed away by his tween daughter, and is stalled on writing his book-length treatise, The Luddite Manifesto. Reduced to the indignity of having to buy a smartphone and work as a rideshare driver, he finds purpose after picking up Lauren, the producer of cable TV show Mackey Live (think: The O’Reilly Factor). He hits it off with her after claiming to be a conservative professor disgusted by lefty academia, and before long they’re dating. As Paul manipulates Lauren to try to get himself booked on Mackey’s show and sabotage it for the good of the country, his life further disintegrates. Wayne’s greatest feat is also something of an Achilles heel: he convincingly inhabits Paul, but Paul can be bloviating and vapid. The fact that swaths of his internal monologues are skippable may cause some readers to tune out. This would be a shame, because when Paul bottoms out, his hurt hits as deep and palpable, and, indeed, his “nothing to lose” plan feels fittingly desperate. There’s not a dull sentence here, though it’s too bad there aren’t fewer of them before the sting in the tail arrives. (July)