This reading group guide for Loner includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.Introduction Loner
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is a gripping novel about a Harvard freshman whose infatuation with a classmate takes a dark, obsessive turn.
David Federman has never felt appreciated. An academically gifted yet painfully forgettable member of his New Jersey high school class, the withdrawn, mild-mannered freshman arrives at Harvard fully expecting to be embraced by a new tribe of high-achieving peers. Initially, however, his social prospects seem unlikely to change, sentencing him to a lifetime of anonymity.
Then he meets Veronica Morgan Wells. Struck by her beauty, wit, and sophisticated Manhattan upbringing, David becomes instantly infatuated. Determined to win her attention and admittance to her glamorous world, he begins compromising his moral standards for this one great shot at happiness. But both Veronica and David, it turns out, are not exactly as they seem. Loner
turns the traditional campus novel on its head as it explores ambition, class, and gender politics. It is a stunning and timely literary achievement from one of the rising stars of American fiction.
This guide is intended to help your reading group find new and interesting topics for discussion and to increase their enjoyment of the story.Topics and Questions for Discussion
1. What was your initial impression of David Federman? How did your trust in his account and his reliability as a narrator shift as his obsession with Veronica deepened?
2. Sara tells David, “You’re missing whatever it is that makes you feel things for other people.” Do you agree with Sara? If so, do you think David’s behavior is influenced by his environment and upbringing, or is it inherent in him?
3. David suggests that human beings tend to overestimate the role of destiny in “selectively applying it to favorable outcomes.” Do you agree with his view that much of what happens in our lives is out of our control and due to mere luck, good or bad? And do you think David’s penchant for rearranging words and sentences backward is his way of exercising control over his world? Or is it merely a social tic?
4. Sara, David, Veronica, and the other freshmen in Loner seem uncomfortably conscious of their social backgrounds and the fact that they are attending an elite university. “Maybe it’s a good thing for us to experience being unseen at a Latino event,” Sara says, “when Latinos have to deal with being unseen more systematically every day in the U.S.” Does her comment shed light on this awareness of privilege and how one might cope with it?
5. Compare Steven’s experience at Harvard to David’s experience. How are they similar? Why do their paths end up so different despite initial similarities?
6. Why do you think David steals Veronica’s bathrobe belt? And why does he specifically hold onto the portion of the belt that is monogrammed with her initials?
7. Do you agree with David that Veronica manipulated him? If so, did learning about Veronica’s motivations change how you felt toward her at the end of the book?
8. In her term paper, Veronica suggests that all relationships are transactional. Do you think Sara shares this view? What do you think Sara might have wanted from David when she started dating him?
9. David directs his entire account toward Veronica. Do you think that after the final episodes in the book he would still imagine an intimate or emotional connection to her?
10. Discuss the gender roles within Loner.
Do they confirm or refute our traditional expectations of women as passive victims and men as aggressors?
11. Why do you think the author chose to set Loner
at Harvard University? Could David’s story occur at other colleges, too?
12. Is the ending of the book a commentary on how our society views sexual assaults as well as the complexities involved in prosecuting them? Should Veronica’s lawyers have insisted on a trial?Enhance Your Book Club
tackles the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. Research real-life cases such as the Vanderbilt rape case. Read Jon Krakauer’s Missoula
for additional insight.
2. With your reading group, explore more novels with unreliable narrators such as Herman Koch’s The Dinner
and Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs.
Discuss how unreliable narrators change your reading experience.
3. Imagine the rest of David’s, Sara’s, and Veronica’s lives and the ways their experiences in the novel might alter those lives.
4. Read Teddy Wayne’s The Love Song of Jonny Valentine
and compare Jonny, the narrator, to David Federman.