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Book Review: Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story

For some reason, I don't read much fiction any more. I reread Don Quixote de la Mancha, or A Confederacy of Dunces once every few years, but when I read books (it happens once in awhile) I more often than not find myself reading quirky history books, or books about music. When I was in San Antonio, I decided to pick up this novel. I had taken a book with me, but finished it, and needed something to help me pass the time.

I have to be careful: reading too many reviews and blurbs can influence my own views on a book, even though I read it myself. Almost every blurb and review I scanned about this book calls it a comic novel. That may be true; I smiled at times in appreciation of the author's cleverness, but laugh out loud funny? Nah. Which is not to say that the novel disappoints.

It's the tale of Lenny Abramov, a Jewish guy, son of Russian immigrants, who is closing in on 40 and who falls in love with Eunice Park, a beautiful young Korean-American. It's set in a future, dystopian USA in which the economy is collapsing. The government is increasingly thuggish and the country is mired in a war in Venezuela. Nevertheless, Lenny finds in his clumsy, almost anachronistic, relationship some sort of redemption; and Eunice is also somehow enriched by the affair. Books are deemed dusty and foul-smelling, yet Eunice pulls The Unbearable Lightness of Being down from the shelf. Meanwhile, the world is crashing all around them.

What I like about the novel is its depiction of our society fast-forwarded several decades. Facebook and porn taken to their ultimate consequences. There seem to be only two career paths: media and retail. Books are passé, but everybody is inundated with information, (about their sexiness ranking, their credit rating, and so on). Information comes streaming in on little hand-held devices, äppäräts, which everybody carries around. There is no privacy, and no one seems to miss it.

At the same time there is something old-fashioned about the novel; it harks back to those nineteenth-century novels about sensibilities and sentiments. Let's call it Chekhovian.

I very much enjoyed the novel, though I have to say that it didn't live up to the hype.

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October 2017

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