Disclaimer: I received my DRM protected copy from Netgalley for free of cost in exchange of an honest review so here it is as promised.
Format of review:
- Who I would recommend it to
- Product details (Amazon)
David Alan Federman has Athazagoraphobia: he fears that he will be forgotten. So introverted was he that upon hearing that he was the sole Harvard bound student from the class, his peers were caught by surprise.
It is important to note that his classmates were not taken aback because he wasn’t academically gifted, rather it was since he never expressed himself to an extent which allowed his peers to evaluate his traits fully.
To paint a picture of his mind, one would only need to take a look at his University Application that was unconventially titled “SDRAWKCAB” which is backwards but only spelled backwards!
In his mind, it is possible to view the world through a linguistic mirror and challenge fundamental assumptions about the nature of things by asking questions like “why is it an apple and not elppa?”
Unfortunately, the friendship, appreciation, and social status that David was craving for all throughout his highschool life and assumed he would have in Harvard were not readily made available to him in his freshman year of University.
As a result, much of the novel revolves around how he struggles to cope with that identity vacuum which the reader is made aware of previously when David tells us how his yearbook picture for senior year had the caption “Ambition: Fill in later”.
Steven Zenger David’s gregarious roommate who is passionate about Physics helps us realize how David isn’t particularly enthused about any major at the time of enrollment and that he hasn’t set out an academic plan for himself to abide by which adds a touch of uncertainty to the whole experience.
Furthermore, when David tries to interact with two athletic individuals -who are at Harvard for sports- during orientation and fails to impress them with his linguistic mirroring of names both he and the reader realize that some social hierarchies remain regardless of whether it is secondary or tertiary education.
Having said that, one of the most intriguing aspects of the narration is how the Point of view switches/focalization from first person to second person in an unreliable manner whenever David wishes to describe Veronica Morgan Wells -the girl he wishes to court- to the audience.
VMW (Notice how V can be mirrored or inverted to look like M or W) as we can call her in short can do no wrong in the eyes of David who sees in her all the qualities he would love to have and as such she is his gateway into the coveted world of socialites.
To achieve just this, he takes it upon himself to win the affections of Sara who is none other than VMW’s room mate just so he can be closer to VMW. In a way, he gives up a prospective perfectly good life with Sara just so he can check the boxes and rise up the ranks with VMW, something which is telling of his need to feel accepted in the highest stratum of society.
However, just like David, VMW harbors secrets of her own, and while the novel chronicles the downward spiral of David’s moral fiber it does also evoke a sense of empathy if not shred of pity for the final “reversal and recognition” that occurs.
Put bluntly, Loner is about obsession. Obsession with credentials, social validation, power, and class which all manifest in a person. This is one boy’s arduous journey to find himself or what’s left of it by the end of the process and just how much he is willing to manipulate others to get there.
In retrospect it is painful to watch on as David naively hopes that somewhere in the core of her being VMW is just like him in the sense that despite appearances both share an inner loneliness of unfathomable magnitude in spite of differences in class and social circles. Being comfortable with our core misery is a form of happiness but David fails to do that as he reaches out for the stars and grabs intangible light which he cannot hold on to.
In the same vein, while on the topic of “personhood” at which point do we surrender our right to moral consideration from a moral community? The readers will face this question as David’s manipulative behavior makes it increasingly difficult to empathize with him when he in turn is given a taste of his own medicine.
With that in mind, the 244 page read is immersive and does describe the Harvard experience well and helps us suspend disbelief through SAT-tier diction which is concomitant of a SAT toppers mind.
That aside, Loner makes us introspect and reflect on how man the “social animal” can move away from an intersubjective state only to be deadlocked in solipsism where the only pain that exists is our own… something that stops us from empathizing with others and understanding them… something David struggles with and perhaps the center of his woes!
Is David irredeemable? Did he attend Harvard for all the wrong reasons? Is blaming the institute and not the society that makes it possible for such instances to occur the right thing to do? Your answers can be found in the book and I recommend you to find them in your own way.
My review: 4/5
- Fantastic diction befitting of a Harvard student
- Part of being a writer is knowing what to leave out and Ted does this excellently
- Compelling protagonist who reacts to alienation in a way that is unforgettable
- Makes us question whether our beings are inherently social or not
- class distinctions and gender politics were brought up
- To many he may fail to evoke pity or fear instead disgusting them
- It’s not easy to walk in David’s shoes, at best we can wear only one
- “You” is lost on readers if they don’t pay close attention to it
- He strikes us as the kind of guy who we wouldn’t feel to excited to be friends with
I would recommend this book to:
People who feel like they need to be in particular social circles to fulfill their esteem needs and eventually reach self actualization. I also recommend you read about honne and tatamae.
If being part of a circle doesn’t feel natural to you, ask yourself why that is. Don’t be afraid to be yourself by yourself without any externalities like peer pressure weighing down on you!
We don’t choose our race, class, religion, blood group, hair colour, e.t.c upon birth… but we can choose who to surround ourselves with … being happy is an inward power of the soul 🙂
- Hardcover: 224 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster (September 13, 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1501107895
- ISBN-13: 978-1501107894
- Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
- Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounce