SUPER SAD TRUE LOVE STORY by Gary Shteyngart
“I think when the dust settles and the Bipartisans are history thatâs how weâre going to live, as small units who donât agree. I donât know what weâll call it, political parties, military councils, city-states, but thatâs how itâs going to be and weâre not going to screw it up this time. Itâll be like 1776 all over again. Act Two for America.”
Review by Poornima Apte (AUG 2, 2010)
Itâs probably best to get this one interesting tidbit out of the way: 38 year-old Gary Shteyngart, the author of the clever new satire, Super Sad True Love Story, recently made the New Yorkerâs list of â20 Under 40â fiction writersâwriters whom the New Yorker described as âcapturing the inventiveness and the vitality of contemporary American fiction.â With Super Sad, Shteyngart has done just that.
One doesnât know for sure how many autobiographical elements are in Shteyngartâs protagonist, Lenny Abramov. But the two are close in age. Lenny, an unsure, bumbling, child-adult still, is 39. As the book opens he has just fallen in love with Eunice Park, many years his junior.
While this might seem straightforward enough, it is not. For this is the America of the not-so-distant future where the country is pretty much on the verge of social and economic collapse and a political apparatus named the Bipartisan Party is in power. Sinister elements of authoritarian rule are creeping up everywhere. The National Guard has posted random checkpoints all around the country to weed out unwanted citizenry all while the country is locked in an endless war against Venezuela.
Lenny works for an outfit that is invested heavily in Life Extension and his assignment is essentially to seek out âHigh Net Worth Individualsâ who will subscribe to the concept. In fact, at the outset of the novel, he is just returning from Rome where he has spent a couple of years trying to scope out potential clients in Europe (he meets Eunice Park in Rome).
As far as everyday human interactions are concerned, the situation is equally grim. Everybody lives out lives in a constant flow of information streamed through individual devices called Ă¤ppĂ¤rĂ¤t. At any given time, these âapparatiâ can tell others what your hotness quotient is or how valuable an asset you are, to your employer. Everybodyâs worth is constantly tabulated. âOne unfortunate Aiden M. was lowered from âovercoming loss of loved oneâ to âletting personal life interfere with jobâ to âdoesnât play well with others,ââ Shteyngart writes. Hardly anybody ever talks to each other anymore and if they do, itâs called verballing (as opposed to just using pictures streamed live).
Needless to say, such an environment is hardly conducive to the nurturing of a budding relationship. It doesnât help that Eunice Park, for her part, doesnât see Lenny through a romantic lens right away. Her first impressions of him are that of a nerd in dorky clothes, someone who is trying way too hard and getting nowhere. Slowly however, she warms up to him, as she realizes he genuinely cares about her.
Super Sad is written in the form of two thought journals. One is maintained by Lenny and is more conventional in its format. The other, maintained by Eunice, is written in the form of brief and intense email messages (or as GlobalTeens messages as they are referred to in the novel) to her close friend, Jenny Kang. Together they paint the picture of a couple slowly navigating the landscape around them to fall in love.
Of course, as the novelâs title implies, this story does not have a fairy tale ending. For one thing, the strained political landscape explodes and there are riots in New York with casualties. The government bombs targets within the country and everyoneâs Ă¤ppĂ¤rĂ¤t stops working. All kinds of chaos ensuesânobody is sure exactly who the bad guy is here. In this politically stifling climate, with all kinds of âBig Brothersâ watching, it remains to be seen how and if Lenny and Euniceâs fragile relationship will endure.
Shteyngart, himself the son of Russian immigrants, has portrayed Lenny as one too. Eunice, for her part, is the daughter of Korean immigrants. Her fatherâs systematic abuse of the family (Euniceâs mother, sister Sally, and herself) on the heels of a failing podiatric practice, also looms large in the background. Shteyngart beautifully portrays the unbearable expectations placed on second-generation immigrants to be high achievers. And he makes it clear not all immigrants and their associated dilemmas are the same. One of the best scenes in the novel comes when Lenny gets to meet Dr. Park over lunch. He can see the similarities between his own overbearing father and Dr. Park but can yet spot the telling differences.
Shteyngart has always written wonderful satire starting with the delightful The Russian Debutanteâs Handbook, which gave a good sneak peek at this authorâs talent. And while it too has sharp satire, Super Sad lacks some of Debutanteâs zaniness. Yet it makes up for this in its more significant emotional heft. Perhaps this is a sign of the gradual maturing of Shteyngartâs own work.
In an interview with the New York Times, Shteyngart has said that he is very comfortable painting dystopian societies. âDystopia is my middle name,â he says, âI was born in the Soviet Union, and then we moved to Reaganâs America.â Even ignoring the tongue-in-cheek factor in that statement, it is easy to see what he means when you read Super Sad. âThatâs what I admire about youngish Italians, the slow diminution of ambition, the recognition that the best is far behind them,â Lenny says in the novel. One wonders how long before the same could be said of us Americans.
Whatâs worse, the scenario painted in Super Sad is not all that far-fetched. One can see the beginnings of such madness all around us. In that sense, not only is Gary Shtenygartâs new novel super sad, it is also super scary.
|AMAZON READER RATING:||from 114 readers|
|PUBLISHER:||Random House; 1 edition (July 27, 2010)|
|AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK?||YES! Start Reading Now!|
|AUTHOR WEBSITE:||Official website for Gary Shteyngart
Wikipedia page on Gary Shteyngart
|MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION:||Another satirical book of our times:
The Unknown Knowns by Jeffrey Rotter
And one set in London:
A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks
And some countries make it hard to write a love story:
Censoring an Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandinpour