While spending a year abroad in the not-too-distant future, Lenny Abramov meets Eunice Park. Lenny, the nearly-40 son of Russian Jewish immigrants, is instantly smitten. Eunice, the daughter of Korean immigrants in her early twenties, is less so. On his return to the States, Lenny urges Eunice to come stay with him. Faced with unemployment, an abusive father, and few other options, Eunice agrees, and the two try to find their way together in a post-literate world where the United States is on the brink of economic, political and social collapse.
Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story reads a bit like a satire, but I honestly have to wonder if Mr. Shteyngart had any idea how eerily accurate parts of his book would seem just a year after publication (the U.S. being in danger of, among other things, defaulting on some of its’ debt). I began reading this novel right about the same time we were going through our “debt crisis” toward the end of July, and it made me feel like the novel was less a satire and more a portent of things to come.
In Shteyngart’s novel, people are judged not only for their looks or personalities, but for their data- all of the relevant information about them (such as net worth, sustainability and fuckability) streams to and from devices known as äppäräts. Without an äppärät, you’re no one- and if you have an outdated äppärät, that’s just as bad. Though there are some who are able to get away with not having one (usually those in some kind of leadership role, such as Lenny’s boss, Joshie), the vast majority need to stream to connect with others. This society is also youth-obsessed. Everything happens on the GlobalTeens network, and Lenny’s job is to sell a reverse-aging process to High Net-Worth Individuals.
As far as Lenny himself was concerned, he struck me as being a bit naive, and I actually found that endearing. He was obsessed with Eunice pretty much from the word go, anxious to take care of her and provide a good life for her in the United States. It was interesting to watch his progression throughout the novel as he went from being a nearly-middle-aged man focused on reclaiming his youth and living forever, to a man just trying to do his best to adapt to his rapidly changing world and finally grasping the concept that eternal youth wasn’t necessarily a good thing. And I found him more and more fascinating as he shed his naïveté.
On the other hand, I spent pretty much the whole novel wanting to smack Eunice. As a woman in her early 20s (which I was just a few years ago), she literally had the whole world before- and she spent almost the entire novel wallowing in her self-centeredness. There were times toward the middle of the novel where she began to show some initiative and desire to do something for someone other than herself- but where Lenny developed as a character, I felt like Eunice’s development was going in circles. After doing something for the greater good, she’d again dwell on how fat her ass was (and it wasn’t). I just found her thoughtlessness to be so infuriating sometimes.
On the whole, though, I thought this novel was very good, and I guess we’ll know in a few years just how prescient Shteyngart is.
Published by: Random House
Publication Date: July 27, 2010 (paperback released 2011)