by Rio Liang
OMG! No longer a super-power, America is now thrall to China, its once mighty dollar now pegged to the yuan. Social media is more horrifically pervasive than it currently is, with most everyone under the sun equipped with “apparats,” devices that provide 24/7 everything from social networking to online shopping to live streaming to rating individuals within a certain radius for, among other criteria, Fuckability. This is the dystopian world of Gary Shteyngart’s “Super Sad True Love Story.” It’s utterly ridiculous, utterly funny…and utterly real. JBF! Ha ha.
Forgive the acronyms in the above paragraph, but those lightweights (OMG, JBF) serve as forewarning for the abbreviations barrage you’d be subjected to when reading Shteyngart’s novel. In this fantasy world, illiteracy is commonplace. Misspellings and IM-speak are the norm, so expect a bunch of [sic]s (for some fun, view the YouTube trailer for the book below, in which the author shams illiteracy). Everyone skims instead of reading text; that is, except Lenny Abramov, our schlubby protagonist. In his Manhattan apartment, he has a “Wall of Books,” replete with relics from an era long past. Many, including his improbable girlfriend Eunice Park, avoid the books lest they inhale disgusting wafts of musty pages.
Another central theme in the book is the fear of death or facing one’s own mortality. Lenny hawks immortality to Hight Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) as his profession. Unsurprisingly, he is fixated on the idea of attaining immortality himself. On the edge of being ancient at 39 years of age, Eunice, who is about a decade his junior, acts as his anchor to youth. In this world, there is no regard for the old, (spoilers ahead) as shown after the “Rupture” (an all-out blitz midway through the story that brings the downfall of the United States), when the government (or whatever it is) enacts “Harm Reduction,” a ridiculous but still sad Holocaust of sorts involving the relocation of the elderly at the NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) Lenny ironically lives in. Shteyngart’s beautifully written and very morose ending ties everything together so fluidly, with Lenny’s seventy-year-old boss Joshie’s attempt at Benjamin Button-ing backfiring, as well as the revelation of Nettie Fine’s actual death (all this time, she’d been suspended in a state of being alive). Even the age of illiteracy dies by book’s end. After a long, fruitless search for immortality, Lenny accepts the inevitability of death.
Lenny is quite a character, loveable despite or maybe even because of his many flaws. He is full of heart but so fatally oblivious. So loving and brimming with love he wants to give, but somewhat delusional or unable to see the reality of love in front of him. Through his diary entries, we get an engaging picture of an imperfect but utterly teddy-bear-like huggable man. Heck, I’d date him! [On a somewhat tangential note, I initially wondered about the epistolary form of the novel; its use ties in to the ending of the novel, but I’ve been starting to wonder about these kinds of stories (like “Atonement” and “Then We Came to the End”) with twists involving the narrative itself. They’ve come to be a rather easy way out. Fortunately, Shteyngart masterfully makes this formula work]. (end spoilers).
Shteyngart is a master satirist, no doubt. His take on politics here is just so hilarious. In this world, conservatives have Fox Liberty-Prime and Fox Liberty-Ultra to cleave to (how characteristic; you knew one day Fox would co-opt the term “Liberty”). The government is ruled by the “Bipartisan Party,” a theoretically probably sound idea that has brought on disastrous results (no one stands for “what’s right”–whatever that means–anymore, and complacency reigns). And there’s a war with Venezuela (ha!).
“Super Sad True Love Story” is super good, super funny, and indeed super sad. Read it now while literacy is still in vogue. (JBF!).