By Gary Shteyngart, Random House, $26.00, 337 pages
“The city of Rome appeared around us, casually splendid, eternally assured of itself, happy to take our money and pose for a picture, but in the end needing nothing and no one. Eventually I realized that the driver had decided to cheat me, but I didn’t protest his extended route, especially as we swung around the purple-lit carapace of the Coliseum, and I told myself, Remember this, Lenny; develop a sense of nostalgia for something, or you’ll never figure out what’s important.”
Gary Shteyngart’s dystopian novel Super Sad True Love Story, paints a pretty horrifying portrait of a very possible future. Imagine a time – “like next Tuesday” – when everyone and everything is available on the Internet, when we devote more of our attention to our digital lives and to the devices that connect us to them than to the friends we might be sharing cocktails with and when books – real, tangible, physical books – are things of the past. It’s through this world, which looks eerily like ours, that readers follow the lovestruck Lenny Abramov, a thirty-nine year old desperately trying to hold his own in a post-literate New York as he falls in love with the young Eunice Park and tries to meet the increasingly illogical demands of his job.
Perhaps Shteyngart is simply holding a mirror to our increasingly fervent desire to broadcast the minutae of our lives on Twitter or YouTube, but the sexual and linguistic crassness of his characters distracts from the book’s earnestly serious warning: Watch out. This could be us. Super Sad True Love Story is a relevant, necessary and eloquent commentary on our culture. There’s no need to sex it up.
Reviewed by Killeen Hanson