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Teddy Wayne talks The Winner, his latest novel riffing on two trending topics: The Talented Mr. Ripley and tennis

June 27, 2024 Mandie-Beth Chau & Peter Stamelman
Author Teddy Wayne. Photo by Tracy Pennoyer
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Teddy Wayne is an award-winning author and Cobble Hill resident who recently published “The Winner.” The novel, which is being developed into a film, is about Connor — a tennis coach in Cape Cod — and the moral quandaries he encounters from pandering to the rich. 

“I had, from the very inception, the idea that Connor would be there as a tennis pro. I needed him to be an outsider, and there are very few reasons why an outsider would be brought into a place like this,” said Wayne. “I thought maybe a rich person would put them up for the whole summer, not having the ability to do much else recreationally. Tennis always felt like a perfect sport to use for this given that it is a sport associated with affluence, and for someone who could potentially pass through these two different worlds, yet still always feels like a constant outsider.”

Wayne explained his process of designing the plot, which he describes as “Ripley-esque.” A GoodReads review echoed this sentiment and labeled the novel “eat-the-rich” fiction. Wayne uses his characters to dissect modern understandings of class and late-stage capitalism-induced moral depravity, exacerbated by a global pandemic and the 2020 U.S. presidential election. 

“Connor’s actions are more representative of a moral drift that has afflicted the country in the past eight years or so, to be imprecise, and it is the result of various external conditions, both social factors and economic desperation, but also his lack of having processed a certain traumatic event from his youth,” said Wayne. “An emotional state that never allowed him to be in touch with his feelings, combined with this financial desperation, make him do things that he would not normally do.”

Book cover of "The Winner" by Teddy Wayne. Photo courtesy of Harper Collins
“The Winner” by Teddy Wayne. Photo courtesy of Harper Collins

Class implications are rife throughout the novel, even reflected in names. Wayne researched White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) names from the 1965 social register when he named the characters. He also named one character after a street in his neighborhood, Remsen, explaining that the name “worked well.”

Like Connor, Wayne grew up in Yonkers before moving to Brooklyn. Despite his upbringing in the suburbs, Wayne has lived in the city for his entire adult life, other than when he attended graduate school in St. Louis, Missouri.

“I moved to Carroll Gardens in 2016 with my now-wife,” said Wayne. “This is our fifth Brooklyn apartment in the past eight years. We moved a lot, but we finally are situated in a place we call home in Cobble Hill.”

Brooklyn culture informed the character Emily, who lives in Brooklyn, to rebel against her Upper East Side parents. Wayne understands how class and hierarchy are directly related to urban geography; each character has an allotment of cultural capital tied to their upbringing that informs their worldview.

Published on the heels of other Ripley-inspired films, television shows and books from recent months, “The Winner” pairs nicely with the popular culture zeitgeist. Emerald Fennel’s “Saltburn” (2023) sparked heavy debate about the class-subverting thriller genre, and the Netflix television adaption of “The Talented Mr. Ripley” (2024), starring Andrew Scott, extended the fascination with sociopathic protagonists as a way to convey class dysfunction. 

“I was impressed by the granularity of his covering up the various crimes he commits,” Wayne said of the Netflix show. “What was so well done is that you really see him cleaning things up, and they take several minutes to show them cleaning blood off of something and how difficult it really is, even in 1960 or so, to get away with murder. It is hard to do. And I think the show does a great job of portraying that kind of grunt work of hiding your murder spree with great detail.” 

“The Winner” was released on May 28 and is available in bookstores and online. Wayne authored six novels and has contributed to many publications, including The New Yorker.


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