Monday, May 21, 2012
It easier to ponder the problems of life when those problems initially seem cloaked in absurdity: big issues become much more approachable. This is why I love satire and satirists. Jonathan Swift, Anton Chekhov, David Sedaris are just a few of my favorites in centuries of great satirical writings. I’ve added Gary Shteyngart to my list as well.
In Shteyngart's third novel, Super Sad True Love Story: a novel, he provides, quite obviously, a sad love story. Lenny Abramov, a Russian immigrant living in Manhattan, tells us about his life and mad love for young, hip Eunice Park through his diary entries. At the age of 39, Lenny is "old" by this society's standards, a complication for his work and for love. Additionally, he has an embarrassing quirk -
he reads "smelly" books. Optimistic and big-hearted, Lenny will to do anything to win Eunice’s love and he decides--and then plans--to never get old.
We read girlfriend Eunice's story in computer correspondence. Eunice is like most people in this new America, techno-obsessed and worried about sexual desirability more than intelligence. She’s caught up in family dysfunction, online shopping and Lenny’s nerdiness.
But Shteyngart weaves another love story into his work - and this one is super sad. America has gone under. The chaotic land functions like a police state, carries a huge indebtedness to China, and is at war with Venezuela. People are illiterate, inept and they are consumed and led by the Media and devices resembling souped-up smart phones. The place is absolutely raunchy. Modesty, privacy and books are gone. Uber-connected America is tragically devoid of true connectedness.
This story is funny, sad, frightening and the weirdly present-day feel of Shteyngart's "future" makes it uncomfortably real. Importantly, however, like in all good satire, beneath the horrifying, bleak scenario lays a smidgen of hope and possibility. A great book!