By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Former Stuy Town resident and author Teddy Wayne used his former home as inspiration for a new novel set in and around the property that is set to debut on February 25.
The novel, “Apartment,” is set in 1996, about seven years before Wayne moved into the neighborhood, so he conducted some background research on the neighborhood to make sure the details were accurate, such as whether or not the fountain was on the Oval then and if certain businesses in the area were open at the time. But Wayne said it was the environment in the neighborhood and the property that inspired him to examine the loneliness of these specific city dwellers.
“It was a formative place in my 20s,” he said. “I wanted to write a novel that revolves around this apartment and explore a friendship through this confined space.”
The story follows an unnamed narrator who is attending an MFA program while living in an illegal sublet in Stuyvesant Town, and he offers a spare bedroom rent-free to a classmate.
Wayne said that he wanted to write about a complex male friendship because many of the books that he’s read delve into complicated female relationships but the male friendships are usually relatively shallow. The relationship in “The Apartment” ultimately goes sour and he wanted to explore that tension in the story.
“I felt that a roommate situation would be a good setting for this,” he said. “And New York is so good for that. When you have a break-up, you’re a prisoner to your apartment if the relationship goes south.”
Because of Stuy Town’s proximity to bars and cultural venues in Manhattan, Wayne said that his place became a sort of social hub for him and his friends. That made his experience different from his narrator’s, who got a roommate because he had no friends and felt isolated, but Wayne said that he could still identify with the character’s experience.
“It’s easy to feel a little lost in the anonymity of the buildings,” he said of Stuy Town. “It’s all identical. You can really feel like you’re one anonymous resident in the 11,000 apartments. You can feel like you’re not being seen somehow.”
Wayne said that he felt like his time in Stuy Town was a turning point for New York but he wanted to set the story in a time before gentrification fully took hold.
“It was like old New York,” he said. “Stuy Town was still filled with old timers who had been there for decades before the luxury takeover of the place.”
One detail that Wayne feels residents might also identify with is the frequent struggle with extreme temperatures in the buildings in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village.
“The apartment I was in didn’t have air conditioning so it was boiling hot in the summer, and I tried to capture that in the story, and there was the boiling heat of radiators in the winter,” he said. “Even inside you were still battling the elements, in which climate is always an issue.”
There will be a launch event for the book at South Street Seaport location for McNally Jackson on Monday, February 24 at 7 p.m. where Wayne will do a reading and discuss the book afterwards with actor Jesse Eisenberg, who Wayne knows through his writing.
Wayne is also the author of “Loner,” “The Love Song of Jonny Valentine” and “Kapitoil” and he is a regular contributor to the New Yorker, the New York Times and McSweeney’s. He is a winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award and an NEA Creative Writing Fellowship and was a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award, the PEN/Bingham Prize and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize.