Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Apartment: The Dream of the 90s is Alive!

File this one under "wheelhouse novel" for me. Teddy Wayne's new novel, Apartment, is about two dudes who share an...wait for it... apartment in mid-1990s NYC. These two guys, who meet in their MFA program at Columbia, spend their time boozing, reading, and working on their novels. Fair warning: This is the white dudiest of white dude novels. So of course I loved it. But this is no dumbass Tucker Max book. It's a thoughtful examination of privilege, loneliness, and what it takes to be a good fiction writer.

The unnamed narrator is the guy who "owns" the prime Manhattan apartment — his great aunt's name is on the lease but she lives in Jersey, so let's him live there, not exactly on the up-and-up. Also, the narrator's father pays the rent and for his schooling, so he doesn't really have much to worry about. 

Billy arrives on the scene from the, Illinois, but the Midwest might as well be Mars to these uppity NYC kids. Even so, he's immediately magnetic to all in his class, because of his good looks, his talent as a writer, and also as an "exotic" — a salt-of-the-earth midwestern bartender. Billy is the only in class to defend the narrator's mediocre story, so the narrator is drawn to him, makes friends with him, and seeing as how he's struggling to make it in NYC, invites him to move into the guest room in his free apartment. 

This has disaster written all over it. But it works for a while, and the good times roll. They drink. They find ladies. They drink more. They work on their stories. They send their stories to magazines. They watch Friends and Seinfeld. They do some drugs. And all falls apart. And the narrator soon finds that his privilege is an illusion.

So there's two kinds of privilege here. There's the narrator's privilege of wealth, that as Rob Lowe's character says in Wayne's World, can get you far in America, almost to the top, but it can't get you everything. Indeed, it can't get you the privilege of talent. And that's what Billy has and the narrator doesn't, and no amount of wealth will get him that. 

This is a short book, but one I enjoyed immensely in the two sittings it took to read. It's rich in 90s pop culture references — sports, music, TV, etc. And it's lack of a better word. If you need a good few-hours distraction from the current state of things, this is it. 

1 comment:

  1. I liked - well, mostly - Loner, so I think I will give this a try. Thanks for the review!