Saturday, November 6, 2010

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart: A review

It was only a coincidence that I happened to be reading this book during this week of the election. Or was it? Perhaps it was kismet. Fated to be.

Gary Shteyngart's latest novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is a dystopian novel set somewhere in the near future in America when society is falling apart and the Chinese are just about to foreclose. This is a society that is obsessed with the individual's credit ratings and with what the chemical analysis of the blood shows about one's health condition and long-term prospects. It's a society where extending life - it is hoped to eternity - is a worthy and sought-after goal. It is a society divided into HNWIs (High Net Worth Individuals) and LNWIs (Low Net Worth Individuals) and you don't want to be an LNWI. The main activity of the HNWIs is shopping. The main activity of LNWIs is trying to find what they need to stay alive.

In this world, the United States is at war with Venezuela and there are National Guard checkpoints all around New York. Except some of them are not NG but are contractors. Books are considered disgusting, papery-smelling anachronisms that nobody who is anybody reads. Instead, people scan for data with an instrument called an apparat, which sounds something like a 10th generation iPad. They wear these things around their necks and are connected to the world by them. Not only can they receive information, but they can constantly stream the wearer's thoughts, conversations, as well as credit ratings and sexual desirability to the world. The latest clothing fad among girls is something called Onionskin jeans, which is just what it sounds like - transparent jeans that show off one's genitalia to the world.

Living in this nightmare world and trying to make sense of it is Lenny Abramov. He is nearing forty and his credit rating is sky-high, but his sexual desirabilty rating is pretty low. He is the son of Jewish Russian immigrants and he has never had a good experience in love. His self-esteem is microscopic, almost non-existent.

While in Italy, Lenny meets Eunice Park, American daughter of Korean immigrant parents, whose life history in many ways mirrors Lenny's, except that she is much younger and she is hot! Lenny finds himself falling in love with her and slowly, slowly, through a set of convoluted familial circumstances, Eunice comes to love Lenny, too. They are a mismatched couple and somehow you just know this isn't going to turn out well. And it doesn't.

This is a satire about a future America that has become ungovernable and is on the brink of fiscal collapse. Actually, it sounds like it might be the day after tomorrow. I guess that it should comfort us to know that even in such a place and time, love is still possible. Even if it is super sad.

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