Gary Shteyngart seems like an awesome guy. We have friends in common; I met him once and he was nice. Articles about him paint him as thoughtful and interesting. He was on No Reservations! I thought his book trailer was hilarious (yes, even though it joked about exploiting girls’ college students). I like him. Until now, I’ve never read one of his books, though.
It’s not that I didn’t like Super Sad True Love Story. Or, it’s not that I don’t think it’s a good book. I do. I think it’s really good. It’s super smart, as well as super sad. I’d like to invoke Margaret Atwood’s term, “speculative fiction” here. Shteyngart takes the worst of the paths the United States is on–consumerism, government surveillance, the ever growing divide between rich and poor, gadget-dependence, the migration of hipsters!–and follows them to their logical end. Yes, end–he basically projects the fall of the United States. In the midst of it all, he gives us a love story. Lenny Abramov, the thirty-eight year old son of Russian immigrants, falls for Eunice Park, the twenty-four year old daughter of Korean immigrants.
Their story alternates (for the most part) between Lenny’s diary entries and Eunice’s “teens”–sort of future emails and IMs–with her sister, her mother and her friend in California. The format is lively and serves well to give the reader more information than either of the characters have. It helped me love Eunice both more and less than Lenny loved her. I don’t want to go into a detailed description of the plot here–it would lose it’s power in summary (as all good stories do). At the end of the novel, I was left deeply sad–for Lenny and for the world.
So I said I think this is a good book–in terms of literary achievement–it’s great. But did I like it? Not really. I bring up Margaret Atwood again because part of my hang-ups with this book were the same as those I had with her Year of the Flood. It sounds so petty, but I have a hard time reading made-up words, especially words that have multiple capital letters in them. They pull me right out of the narrative. Made-up terms and words abound in this novel. Maybe they have to in order to describe gadgets, groups and companies that we do not have yet, but probably not. I know this is a personal preference, but it got exhausting for me, learning so many new terms, brands, countries, currencies, etc. and made me care less about the actual story.
Another sort of personal issue I had with the novel was Lenny’s fetishizing of Eunice. He described her over and over again in terms of how tiny she was, how childlike and unwomanly, how blank and beautiful. I lost count, but he describes going down on her at least five or six times. For me, there wasn’t much difference between the first description and the fifth, which made me feel like there was more objectification going on than was necessary. His obsession with her and over-the-top adoration of her is part of the narrative; it doesn’t make the book bad–it’s interesting in light of what happens. But I got sick of reading about it.
In closing, there is a lot to like about this book, I just didn’t.