In 1996 while pursuing an MFA at Columbia University, Teddy Wayne’s unnamed narrator in Apartment quickly realizes that his knowledge about writing far outweighs his actual talent. In his first writing workshop, his professor and peers’ comments regarding an excerpt from his novel are demoralizing; however, one student, Billy Campbell, comes to his defense. He believes that Billy’s critiques could help him become the writer he wants to be. In an effort to strike up a symbiotic friendship with Billy, he offers the spare bedroom in his rent-stabilized apartment in Stuyvesant Town, which he has been illegally subletting for six years from his great-aunt to Billy in exchange for a weekly cleaning and the occasional home-cooked meal. Given that Billy is broke and has been living in the basement of the bar he works at, Billy accepts. Their arrangement works out for a while, but jealousy and unspoken feelings erupt. What follows are miserably cringy moments that are surprisingly enthralling and sobering.
Despite its slow-moving plot and annoyingly pretentious and desperate protagonist, Apartment manages to provide a nuanced look at masculinity, sexuality, and class. Wayne’s strength lies in his characters, which he writes with impeccable clarity; the narrator’s thoughts and actions are consistently believable, and the tension between characters is always painfully palpable. Though not a pleasant read, Apartment still has a lot to offer its readers.
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