Gary Shteyngart – Super Sad True Love Story

Super Sad True Love Story reminded me in bits and pieces of several other near future satire/dystopias (all of which I thought were more successful), among them Wallace’s infinite Jest and Hal Hartley’s film The Girl from Monday, but most of all David Marusek’s Counting Heads. Marusek’s book is much more science fiction-y and action-oriented, but the two novels share a self-consciously anachronistic narrative viewpoint and a mix of realistic socio-technical extrapolation and credulity-straining inconsistencies.

I think near-future satire of social technology is very hard to pull off right now: if Where The Ladies At? is real, how can you exaggerate it to a humorous extreme? Some of Shteyngart’s concepts read more as bluntly predictive than satiricial; a few already sound almost passé. (I first heard one of his supposedly edgy future slang terms in the eighties.)

Shteyngart fundamentally failed for me to deliver on the novel’s title: if it’s going to be sad, I need to be emotionally invested in the characters. I couldn’t manage to like Shteyngart’s primary narrator, Lenny Abramov, enough to care about his career struggles or his May-September romance with the Eunice Park, the other protagonist/narrative perspective. I found Park’s character (and voice) even more problematic than Abramov’s — she sounds way too much like a forty-ish man’s idea of a how twenty-ish woman would think, feel, and act (with a hefty dose of into-schlubby-older-men wish fulfillment).

But there was one dimension in which I thought Super Sad True Love Story really shone: as a cautionary fable about the risks of international debt. Shteyngart’s vision of a United States beholden to its creditors, a nation stripped of superpowerdom and emphatically not “too big to fail” rang more true than any of his characters. I thought it was all-too-credible in spirit if not in specifics.

needs more demons? “Demons” is the wrong metric, but it’s lacking something. It might have worked better for me if it were either substantially more or less compassionate to its characters.

Published by therealsummervillain

likes: equality, making things easier to use, biking, jangle, distortion, monogamy dislikes: bigotry, policies that jeopardize people, lack of transparency

2 thoughts on “Gary Shteyngart – Super Sad True Love Story

  1. Having read the book in your mother’s class at HCC
    my wife and I believe you got to the essence of what
    we felt. After 2 hours of discussion you got closer
    to the feeling than we all did. Are all your reviews so accurate? PS we are 70 and really believe that dialog with with you young folks is all important especially since we (the baby boomers) made this mess in the first place.


  2. Thanks for the kind words, Tim, very much appreciated. Unfortunately, I think we all own the mess together.


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