Great Man is often a sharp, funny novel, its punchline being Paul, the middle-aged mediocrity ... But Wayne doesn’t want us to mock him too much ... Wayne thrusts Paul into a complex and fairly preposterous plot ... Wayne is an inheritor...of Vonnegut’s style — winkingly funny, brisk, broadly satirical ... He has Paul behave so absurdly over-the-top that the nuanced satire of the early pages becomes more farcical toward the climax. And for a novel featuring a hero nobly fighting a war against cliché, some well-worn tropes slip through ... Wayne wants to get well-intentioned bookish types — people who read novels — to look in the mirror. For them, elevated, cogent truth just might work.
Bland, static ... The Great Man Theory is a fraught project from the get-go: a middle-aged White male writer telling the tale of a middle-aged White male writer. To his credit the author bores into his character with gusto ... He embodies the flaws and ennui of his demographic, but Wayne doesn’t know what to do with him ... The Great Man Theory, then, is a character study. Wayne is at his best when he dials down the temperature, plumbing the nuances of the parent-child connection ... But these moments trickle away like sand through fingers. The problem is that Wayne can’t (or refuses to) shift his protagonist out of neutral: Paul’s stuck in a rut of self-regard, grinding his gears ... Wayne writes the occasional arresting phrase, but for the most part the novel wobbles forward on clunky, adverb-heavy sentences. The plot grows increasingly ornate, weighed down by Paul’s obsession with fame. We await a payoff that never lands.
Paul, the protagonist of Teddy Wayne’s new novel, The Great Man Theory, is an aggrieved Everyman who finds contemporary life unsatisfying ... I loved him immediately. Cranky characters often make for interesting novels, after all ... Paul experiences a series of semi-comic but escalating mishaps that get much less funny as the novel goes on ... Wayne handles the dissolution of Paul’s life with a wry irony ... Wayne turns the smug woundedness of the contemporary liberal into an amusing social comedy ... In the case of The Great Man Theory, the final turn to melodrama merely feels contrived and false. It renders the novel less smart, less engaging, less human. Wayne had the option to write a real novel about frustrated contemporary masculinity and the ways that white liberal men are also being corrupted by the internet and their lingering sense of entitlement. Instead, what readers will find at the conclusion of The Great Man Theory is that its author has been laughing at them and his characters the entire time. An enraging end to an almost great but ultimately crude novel.
Its plot follows a central male character and its narrative voice never strays far from that character’s thoughts ... In his past work, Wayne has been able to create complex, engaging novels within this framework ... But I’m not sure the same is true this time ... Maybe it’s because Paul represents everything I try to avoid in life (I’m a 48-year-old white English professor), but the more time I spent with him, the harder I found it to take him seriously. And the less I wanted to ... I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that Paul’s takeaway after executing his plan seems so delusional that when I went back and reread the novel from the beginning, it occurred to me that it might all be narrated from a psychiatric hospital ... Of course, it’s possible this is the point.
Compelling ... Wayne is a gifted writer with a talent for deft sketching ... Wayne isn’t quite a satirist. I think his project is more earnest than that. But his scenes of bourgeois socializing have their own kind of mercilessness ... One of Wayne’s other strengths is capturing thought on the page — the ways in which we flatter ourselves, or overanalyze, or rationalize even as we brush aside our knowledge that we’re rationalizing ... The novel’s plotting is tight, meticulous, perhaps even slightly too neat, and there are some parts, particularly the subplot about Paul’s relationship with the cable news producer, where Wayne slightly stretched my suspension of disbelief, though hardly enough to affect my enjoyment of the book.
The sorrows of a white, liberal, middle-aged, divorced, male academic in contemporary America might not seem like the most absorbing fictional material. But in the hands of Teddy Wayne, it’s an opportunity to create a compelling portrait of a man driven to the brink in a culture that he understands both all too well and not at all ... Part character study, part social satire, The Great Man Theory is fully a document of our troubled times.
An engrossing political novel but not in the usual sense ... Bravely, author Teddy Wayne...has made Paul annoying, self-righteous, and whiny. Those qualities are perfectly tuned to build the compelling plot and also make Paul a fully realized character, whether or not they alienate readers ... However, Paul’s periodic cluelessness isn’t believable ... The plot really takes off in the final 40 pages, like the kind of thriller Paul would never read or write.
Alternately crushing and tedious ... 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.
This novel attempts an exquisite balancing act between the farcical and the devastatingly sad and between the political polarities its protagonist sets out to address ... The novelist plainly has sympathy for Paul, his positions, and his plight, yet he also presents him as a sad sack ... Having established a character who is both sympathetic and ridiculous, the novel must find something for him to do ... The novel generates plenty of dark humor from its serious issues and predicaments.