My boyfriend is a rabid Gary Shteyngart fan and I finally wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Super Sad True Love Story is in a similar vein to 1984: it’s set in a nightmarish but slightly recognisable America a few years in the future. In Shteyngart’s world everybody is glued to their äppäräts, their electronic playthings; people seem to disappear if they don’t have one on them at all times. Books are frowned upon, our hero Lenny Abramov loves them but is thought odd for doing so. He is prone to crying a lot, an openly emotional person in an uncaring and artificial world.
Lenny falls in love with Eunice Park, a woman much younger than him, and although she sometimes says she loves him, she just seems to like having a dependable man be nice to her. Lenny can’t really see this, and this was one of the things I found most interesting about the book. Lenny’s diary entries take up more space than Eunice’s online chats with her friends and family, but we see two sides of their story. I find it fascinating to see how people misinterpret each other. Towards the end of the book Eunice says that Lenny just wants a Korean girlfriend, any girl as long as she’s Korean. I appreciated this because Lenny doesn’t realise that he is drawn to Korean women specifically. I liked how it slightly undermined his telling of the story. For me, though, this undermined the love story itself: much of it was only in Lenny’s mind. It seems less Super Sad because of this.
I read somewhere that Shteyngart said that 1984 was a better book than Brave New World, simply because of 1984’s love story. I can have problems with a lot of dystopia because characters often seem quite lacking and robotic; the characters can sometimes be more representative of ideas than real people. I haven’t read 1984 for a long time but perhaps the reason it remains so popular is Winston’s humanity. Shteyngart also injects humour into his dystopia, which oddly enough makes it easier for me to accept this world as being realistic. The characters in this novel all have recognisable wants and needs: they want to live longer, they want to be happy, they want to be safe. Eunice wants her family to escape her abusive father, but she often wonders if she is in the wrong when he gets angry. Lenny wants Eunice to love him; the rich people he works for want to live forever, or, rather, be young forever. A lot of it feels reminiscent of today’s world, only more pressurised.
I enjoyed this book. I’m interested in reading more of Shteyngart; I think I might enjoy his autobiography, Little Failure.