Satirist hits a sharp, smart note in tale of preteen singing heartthrob

Tampa Bay TimesMarch 16, 2013 

"The Love Song of Jonny Valentine" by Teddy Wayne.

  • Fiction The Love Song of Jonny Valentine Teddy Wayne

    Free Press, 285 pages

Satirist Teddy Wayne’s entertaining new novel, “The Love Song of Jonny Valentine,” delves into the twisted world of celebrity culture with delicious, detailed insight.

It would have been easy to simply jab at pop effluvia, and Wayne certainly takes a few fish-barrel shots: The singer is a sex symbol although, at age 11, he’s yet to hit puberty and is woefully unsuccessful at launching himself into manhood.

But there are also great swaths of heart and pain and genuine compassion. This kid, whom the world worships, is miserable and lonely, often getting sleeping pills from his mother.

Mom Jane’s a former grocery clerk, and she’ll never go back, even if it means pushing her son to extremes like making him ride in a shoddy heart-shaped swing high above concert crowds because “fans are going to expect it now.” He almost kills himself and those very fans one night, but Jane waves off his worries: “Even if it happens next time, you’re protected by three levels of defense.”

As he tries to navigate prepubescence and the paparazzi, slipping album sales and consumer backlash, his only friends are his bodyguard, his tutor and his housekeeper, about whom he fantasizes. When anyone tries to shield him from hurt, Jane silences them fast enough.

So he searches for any solid personal connection he can find. He’s searches for his absentee father. He bonds with his older opening act. He yearns to connect on a date set up for PR purposes.

The cheapest joke in Wayne’s book might be the protagonist’s age: Eleven is unrealistic even for a sharp satire. Jonny thinks, speaks, acts much older. But the point is taken: In order to play this vicious fame game, pop providers keep trying to find an edge. It’s slimy, and Jonny has a long road of therapy ahead. But hey, they wouldn’t be selling if we weren’t buying. And we just can’t get enough.

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