It’s air-tight satire, particularly because [Teddy] Wayne doesn’t have to do much to alter modern-day America — we’re admittedly a bunch of celebrity-sucking vampires, after all, just as so many celebrities jump to bare their necks to us — and as the narrative rings true, the boy Jonny’s forced to mold himself into becomes all the more tragic. He lives a deeply false life, but our complacency in this, whether we’re teeny-boppers or not, lends us that same cheapness. It’s masterfully done, but it does leave us mired in the age-old questions of celebrity and authenticity, wondering what about any of this is new.
Elizabeth Minkel,”The Kid Is Alright: On Teddy Wayne’s The Love Song of Jonny Valentine.”
I’ve always been interested in child stars and prodigies. It’s a strange phenomenon, to have an adult mind or adult responsibilities but the restricted emotional comprehension of a child. We’ve had huge child stars in this country for a long time, ever since Jackie Coogan and Shirley Temple in the 1920s and ’30s, and many more the last few decades, especially this most recent one. We’re fascinated by the contrast of outsized talent in somebody so small, and we impute qualities to them — usually angelic innocence — that may not necessarily reflect their private personae.
David Foster Wallace got into arguments about this in graduate school, when he wanted to depict the heavily mediated space around him — subject matter his professors thought was inconsequential or un-literary. As he pointed out, he’d see hundreds of ads and commercials each day, and they constituted an integral part of his mental activity. Writing about this material gets pejoratively labeled “postmodern” or “experimental,” but what’s more “realist” than describing the physical world, even if billboards and 30-second spots replace trees and rivers?