28 February, 2012

A Failed Dystopia (Super Sad True Love Story - Gary Shteyngart)

'Today', writes Lenny Abramov in the opening lines of 'Super Sad True Love Story', 'I've made a major decision: I am never going to die'. This is a strong, interesting start to a dystopic novel by Shteyngart - but, like my last review, I'm bloody glad I bought this novel on discount; the promising first chapters soon unravel into a loosely-plotted and barely meaningful dystopia. The book fails to be as interesting and quirky as the signs suggest, and whilst verbose and long, is quite restrained in what it is willing to suggest about current society.
A better book.
 The book has two narratives - the first being Lenny's diary (he's one of the last people on earth to be writing one), an account of his love affair with Eunice and all that follows. The second narrative strand is excerpts from the 'GlobalTeens' account of Eunice Park, a Facebook-like system, but with more control and a compulsory exercise. The relationship between them is improbable, and whilst in other literary romances of this type - older man, reluctant and confused younger woman - there is an element of mystery to the relationship, we see both sides. Eunice's GlobalTeens conversations demonstrate how she thinks of Lenny as older, uglier and repugnant, and so their eventual pairing is unsympathetic to the reader. This is basically '1984', without the depth.
Another better book
 What I DID enjoy about the novel (during the rare times it was done well) was the apocalyptic sense of doom and mortality, for our characters and for the world, hemmed in as they both are by social strata. America is so poor that China, its creditor, is threatening to 'pull the plug' and there is a sense of foreboding, and ever-closer danger ahead. Essentially, 'Brave New World' without any actual exploration of social class. Lenny cannot get for himself the immortality which, as a profession, he provides to others - but what is also never explained is why, when he doesn't fit into society, he wants to 'live forever'.

Shteyngart is a competent manipulator of language - Lenny's diary is highly characterised and stylised. Likewise, the slang and youth-speak of Eunice's world is exhibited proudly in her GlobalTeens excerpts, and her mother's failed English suggests the danger that the world is in, not just America itself. But after a while, these gimmicks are tiresome - what do they actually do for the plot? How do they actually put forth the ideas of the text?
As you can probably tell by now, he's an absolute nutjob. But not in the good, 'genius' way.
 The most interesting idea of the novel was the literary aspect - as in every dystopia which came before it, SSTLS makes the point that people are forced to read less, and governments desperate for power will make reading unfashionable, and abhorrent. Whilst this point is never expanded in any meaningful or subtle way (Lenny says 'Even I'm having trouble following this...Reading is difficult...We're in a... visual age', such a blindingly obvious point as to be an insult to the Facebook generation) it is interesting to see almost every classic novel name-dropped and the book itself being referenced in the final chapters. But if this is the sort of book published in Lenny's middle-years, no wonder noone reads.

Links: I agree with most of this
Oh and more evidence of him being bonafide crazy

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