No 716 Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

Calling your novel Super Sad True Love Story could be seen as a risky strategy. You’ve created your own hype before a page has been read.

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This super, sad, true love story is set in a futuristic New York, where the dollar is plummeting, the streets are filled with soldiers and China has the upper hand. On top of that, the worst of today’s culture is now the norm. The information age has taken over. The cool jobs are in Retail and Media. Everyone wears a scarily smart phone (think the iPhone as designed by Orwell) called an apparat, that constantly streams your personal information, most importantly your credit rating and your fuckability score. Women wear see-through OnionSkin jeans, TotalSurrender pants and shop at AssLuxury. No one talks, or ‘verbals’, anymore and no one reads. The main email system is called GlobalTeens and the search is on for the answer to eternal life.

 

They didn’t care. The world they needed was right around them, flickering and beeping and it demanded very bit of strength and attention they could spare.

 
Vacuity, pornography, youth and consumerism rule.

 
It’s a nice set-up and it’s cleverly done, but as dystopian future’s go it’s not too much of a stretch and although recognisable, is not as compelling as the world created by Margaret Atwood in Oryx and Crake.

 
Against this amusing, yet frightening backdrop, we meet 39-year-old Russian-American Lenny Abramov who works in Indefinite Life Extension who thinks he will literally be able to live forever if he can just persuade Eunice Park, a 24-year-old Korean-American, to fall in love with him. Eunice is beautiful and damaged and realises that Lenny may just be able to provide her with the love and care she has been missing at home at the hands of her abusive father. Over the next few months, through Lenny’s diaries and Eunice’s emails, the rise and inevitable fall of this dysfunctional, deluded love story is played out in what appears to be a world gone mad.

 
Smart as the book is, I had problems with it. Lenny and Eunice never really come across as a real couple, or for that matter real people. The love story part of Super Sad True Love Story is neither particularly sad, nor does it ring particularly true. The novel really drags once their relationship picks up pace and it feels a little scatterbrain and overly long. The passages detailing Lenny and Eunice’s immigrant parents seem to serve little purpose and don’t mesh well with the satire of what America has become.

 
For me, there are several books here, all vying for attention.

 
Is it a satire on consumer society and the dumbing-down of the populace? Is it an examination of getting old, and the lengths we’ll go to stay young? Is it a diatribe against America’s foreign policy and a warning to us that a totalitarian state is closer than we think? Is it an exploration of second generation immigrants and what it means to be outsider in your own country and a foreigner even with those you love?

 
The answer to all these questions is yes. It is all of these things. I get it. I couldn’t really miss it, as these issues are not dealt with in a particularly subtle or perceptive way. Dave Eggers did this sort of thing better in The Circle, mainly by keeping his focus narrow and his characters believable.

 
Unfortunately for me this was neither super nor sad and the love story was unconvincing. To give Shteyngart his due, there is some great imagination and skilled writing on display here and some fun set pieces, but the novel never becomes anything more than the sum of its very diverse parts.

 
Read on: iBooks
Number Read: 31
Number Remaining: 715

 

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21 thoughts on “No 716 Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

  1. “Smart as the book is, I had problems with it. Lenny and Eunice never really come across as a real couple, or for that matter real people. The love story part of Super Sad True Love Story is neither particularly sad, nor does it ring particularly true.”

    That does sound a major problem. Good review.

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    • Thanks Alex. I started out quite liking it, but knew it had lost me when I put it down halfway through to read two other books. I think I finished it out of a sense of duty for my 20 Books Challenge!

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  2. I read your considered review with interest because I loved The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan but haven’t read this one or his autobiography. Have you read any other Shteyngart?

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    • No I haven’t, but I would. I’ve heard good things about both and have Absurdistan in the 746 so I will get to it at some point. He’s a sharp writer for sure so I’d like to see what else he does!

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  3. A lot of it sounds interesting. Maybe it just needs a different title, so people don’t expect it to be a super sad true love story. I had fun reading about it!

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  4. I clicked on this review wondering if maybe I could be convinced to give this book another shot — I put it down half-way through. I’m still not sure why it got so much buzz. It didn’t work for me, but The Circle is toward the top of my reading list.

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  5. A good point – good love story can be unforgettable and a bad one can ruin the whole heart of a book… and love is so difficult to write convincingly.

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  6. I read ‘Super Sad..’ a couple of years ago and found Shteyngart’s futuristic world laugh-out-loud funny and frighteningly believable at the same time. I know exactly what you mean about the plausibility of Lenny and Eunice’s relationship, though – it does stretch the credibility factor, but in the end, I just went with it. Great review, and excellent point about there being several books in here all struggling for attention!

    Your review makes me think I should take a look at Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, and I also have The Handmaid’s Tale on my own tbr.

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    • His vision of the future was really cleverly done and all too possible! The Handmaid’s Tale is really wonderful, I prefer it to Oryx and Crake but I think Atwood is a genius, so it’s still pretty brilliant! Enjoy.

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  7. I’ve been thinking a lot about ‘the future of the digital age’. What’s happening ‘now’ scares me enough to want to throttle back and revert to an (almost) analogue way of being in the world. I was interested in reading the book until you mentioned the love story problems, but if I see the book around I’ll give it a go. It sounds funny and clever, but maybe it could have done with a decent edit?

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  8. It sounds like Shteyngart’s vision of the future is similar to the one Alena Graedon created in The Word Exchange, which I thought was well done (but is also not as interesting as the one in Oryx and Crake, but it’s Atwood!). I’ve heard him on public radio and tend to think of him as a humorist who writes fiction more than anything–but that’s without having read any of his books. I think you’ve convinced me not to start with this one!

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  9. So, “Women wear see-through OnionSkin jeans, TotalSurrender pants and shop at AssLuxury”? This definitely was written by a man! I enjoyed your review and will come back from time to time (I hope you don’t mind)! I’m a slow reader but am always looking for that next good book to read!

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  10. I haven’t read anything by this author, but he seems to have a fun sense of imagination. From your review, it sounds like that might not necessarily mean the story comes together smoothly.

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