Friday, August 13, 2010

Super sad, super satirical--it's just SUPER!

Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel
by Gary Shteyngart

At one point when I was reading this disturbing, satirical look at a possible American future, I just thought, "Wait! How did we get there from here? How did we get from the America I know to a totalitarian nation on the verge of financial and political collapse?" And in the next moment, unbidden, I thought, "It's a totally logical projection."

Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story is provoking some strong responses. It's polarizing. It's disturbing. It is funny, but you know how humor is, so subjective. What I find uproarious, you'll find imbecilic. As a great man said, "So it goes." Perhaps one of the reasons the novel is so provocative is that despite the absurd humor and the extremity of Shteyngart's vision, his satirical eye is dead on. He's got us pegged.

As for the plot, it's an epistolary novel, a romance related from the pages of Lenny Abramov's diary and Eunice Park's emails and instant messages. Poor, sweet, neurotic Lenny. He'll never be the best looking guy in the room, but he has other redeeming qualities. He's kind, sincere, loving, fiscally responsible, a reader and a thinker. Unfortunately, 39-year-old Lenny lives in an aggressively vulgar and illiterate culture that is obsessed with youth, beauty, and consumerism. The object of his affection is the much younger, much hotter Eunice. It's an unlikely match, but I was actually touched as the relationship progressed, all the while fearing for Lenny's tender heart.

There is so much I could write about this novel! The fact that Lenny works in the indefinite life preservation industry, based on the idea that if you're rich enough you never have to die. His boss, Joshie Goldman, is a post-adolescent septuagenarian. The fact that LNWI (Low Net Worth Individuals) have formed a tent city in Central Park, and there are armed National Guardsmen all over the New York. The very idea of privacy is essentially a thing of the past. Everyone wears a device that simultaneously connects them online and broadcasts the most intimate details of their lives, and people--lliterally--feel they can't live without the constant stream of data. The dystopian near future that Shteyngart has created is so rich and fully realized and so worthy of contemplation and discussion. I can barely touch on the ideas he explores in a few paragraphs.

It is worth mentioning just how strong his writing is as well. Even in the midst of the tortured language used by his characters, I found his prose to be a joy to read. There were interesting subtleties to the end of the novel, and I'm not completely sure I understood everything. Rather than weaken the ending, I find this to be a strength. I'll be pondering Eunice's decisions for some time, and look forward to discussing the end with friends. Yeah, this one's going to stick with me for a while.


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  2. Ooh! This sounds really good - and right up my dystopian alley.
    Now I have to go find a copy - hope the libes or PBS has it!