Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story

Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story is not only super sad but also both frightening and funny. It occurs in the very near future ("oh, let's say next Tuesday," the flyleaf suggests) when our portagonist, Lenny Abramov, is viewed with suspicion and distaste because he still owns, treasures, and actually reads from a large collection of, gasp, books. Most of his fellow citizens -- of a distorted, yet all too recognizable in its possibilities, US of A -- rely instead on their apparats, generally worn around their neck. These apparats continually scan and are scanned, projecting broadly visible announcements of the wearer's Credit index, Personality rating, and in an amusing extrapolation of so many (current, real-life) FaceBook users' predilection for sharing, their Fuckability rating. Lenny doesn't do too badly on Credit, but rates poorly in the other two indices.

The United States in which Abramov courts the beautiful young Korean-American woman he met while away in Italy is a United States scornful of the poor and elderly, seeing those whose Net Worth or Credit rating is low as verging on the criminal. Youth, or at least a youthful appearance is so desirable that Lenny screens applications for High Net Worth individuals who have put aside enough money for "dechronification" treatments (nanobots move through the bloodstream, resetting biological functions for optimum performance). Lenny himself has been saving for such a treatment, but feels the possibility slipping away, even as his hair begins to thin and he coasts towards middle age.

State security is augmented, sometimes simply replaced, by employees of large conglomerated corporations. Checkpoints require submission to intrusive questioning, and also demand that those who pass through them "Deny and imply"-- that is, deny that such a checkpoint, such intrusive security, exists at all and imply consent to the incident the questionee is denying. Shades of  Orwell's doublespeak. . . .

Besides the chilling glimpse at an imagined trajectory of the United States, the novel can be enjoyably read simply for the "super sad love story" -- poignant, doomed, moving, hopeful, all the notes. As well, if you're a reader, fretting over the future of the written word, there's much to think about here, or to offer to others as a cautionary tale.  In fact, of the books I've read so far this year, I'd put this high on the list of those I'd recommend. And, as always, should you read it, I'd love to hear your response.


  1. 1984/Brave New World for the Facebook generation? Sounds like a great read. I can't keep up with you! I'm going to the bookshop today to hunt for Room and this one and they can join my bedside stack ...

  2. That's a perfect description! I'll admit I've been reading up a storm lately -- helps to have the Research Leave . . .

  3. I didn't find this one, but I bought Room yesterday!