Review: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

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Luckily, the first book I chose to read for 2013 turned out to be everything a good book should be: equally funny and sad, socially poignant, and pleasantly surprising. Super Sad True Love Story was released in 2010 and went on to be one of the books everyone was talking about that year, and I’ve wanted to read it since then. I actually didn’t realize it was a dystopian novel until I started reading–which is why it was surprising. The title/cover combination gives nothing away, really, and since I hardly ever pay much attention to  blurbs, I really didn’t know what this book was about until I was in it.

I wouldn’t call myself a fan of dystopian novels, but I wouldn’t say I’m not a fan, either. I love the classics, you know, the three everyone is always talking about– Fahrenheit 451, 1984Brave New World. I think elements of all three of these books are present in Super Sad True Love Story, if only as small reflections. There’s the plot element of ‘in the future, everybody fucking hates books’ that’s present in Fahrenheit 451 especially, and maybe because Fahrenheit 451 is the most recent dystopian novel I’ve read, Super Sad True Love Story reminded me most of that one. But, really, it’s a book of its own: more clever, self-aware, and modernly relevant than any classic dystopian, and much more meaningful and interesting (at least, to me) than any of the YA dystopians that are most popular nowadays. I guess that’s why I was pleasantly surprised that Super Sad True Love Story was a dystopian–I associate that genre much more with young adult, with books like The Hunger Games, the Uglies series, etc, and I didn’t think that there were many adult books out there predicting the end of all things anymore. I love young adult, but I do mainly read adult fiction and what’s the end of America without awkwardly explicit sex scenes? Nothin’.

Super Sad True Love Story is futurisitc, but the actual date is never truly revealed, most likely to keep with the sense that this is the near future, somewhere still in the 21st century. Everyone is more or less required to carry around what they call “äppärät”–basically smaller and more powerful iPhones–and youth culture is all-powerful. The main character, Lenny, is in his late thirties, and he still remembers a time when books were, like, a thing, and he’s totally nostalgic but he’s equally wanting to be accepted in the (mean and gross but darkly funny) youth-obsessed culture. He works in “life extension” (adding another sort of sci-fi element to the book. Will people in the future be trying to live forever? Probs.) So, basically he starts a relationship with Eunice, who is in her 20s. That’s the “love story” part, although I wouldn’t call this a love story by any means. (The title only makes sense once you read the entire book, but basically it’s more tongue-in-cheek than anything.) The narrative is split between Lenny’s old-fashioned wordy diary entires and Eunice’s online correspondence. Although every character in this book is sometimes cringe-worthy, by the end I really liked the characters and I felt the ending, especially, was spot-on.

I’ve scanned some goodreads reviews of this book last night, and I saw a lot of people calling this a work of speculative fiction, which basically means, instead of being a plain dystopian about all the crazy ways in which a world can go to shit, it’s saying, “This is where we’re headed.” In a way, I think a lot of the elements of this book rang true to me in that sense, but Shteyngart’s writing never felt preachy to me. The first half of the book felt wholly comic, and the second half felt heartwrenchingly real, so much so that I could hardly put it down. Overall, the book is the perfect combination of funny and sad, and maybe a little bit true. It’s a really smart book that deals with a lot of stuff: family, immigration, youth, aging and death, literature, the end of America, and the struggle for Fuckability. Totes five out of five stars.

Also, last night I stumbled upon this book trailer, which is hilarious and worth watching. James Franco and Jeffrey Eugenides are both in it?

Until the next one,
Catherine

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Reading Challenge Progress: 1/70
Currently Reading: Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë

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