Love is a Kind of Dystopia: Super Sad True Love Story

08/04/2010 3:00 AM |

Super Sad True Love Story
By Gary Shteyngart

Random House

Gary Shteyngart may just be the go-to literary satirist of the aughts: a perennial critics’ favorite, and one of The New Yorker‘s recently anointed “20 under 40,” his parodies have grown in scope with each of his three novels. His debut, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, was set in the barely fictional post-Soviet city of Prava, while his incisive 2006 follow-up, Absurdistan, took an entire country to task. And now, with Super Sad True Love Story, Shteyngart has set his sights on mocking an entire world, resulting in an expansive satire that at times forgets the love story at its core.

Painted in the broadest of strokes, the so-near-it’s-probably-tomorrow dystopia inhabited by protagonists Lenny Abramov—the latest permutation of Shteyngart’s classic first-generation Russian-American Jewish geek anti-hero—and Eunice Park—Lenny’s Korean love interest, fifteen years his junior—is a distinctively retro Future, as hyperbolic as The Jetsons or Epcot. Glued to their Ãpparati (the laptop/cellphone/socialnetworking/Big Brother device of the future), the denizens of Shteyngart’s post-literate, “pre-Rupture” New York City are too busy ranking themselves on everything from Credit to Fuckability to notice that Bipartisan Party America, led by Venezuela-invading Defense Secretary Rubenstein, is about to be foreclosed upon by her very frustrated Chinese, Norwegian and Arab creditors. Things aren’t much better on the domestic front: Low Net Worth Individuals are about to wage war on their High Net Worth counterparts, and the corrupt National Guard, as run by the American Restoration Authority (“Together We’ll Surprise the World!”), isn’t doing much in the way of keeping the peace. Lenny’s position in the Post-Human Services division of the multinational Staatling-Wapachung Corporation, the ethics of which are plunging faster than the U.S. Dollar, is dicey at best.

The humor derived from this world is straightforward: companies have names like LandO’LakesGMFordCredit and AlliedWasteCVSCitigroup; Israel and Brooklyn have been re-dubbed SecurityState Israel and BrownstoneBrooklyn, respectively; and books are now called “bound media artifacts,”best known for their bothersome smell and inability to disseminate data at a useful speed. But despite the heavyhandedness of the setting and its obligatory intrusion into the plot, Super Sad True Love Story is, at heart, a wonderfully wrought super sad true love story. Emerging from Shteyngart’s world of mega-conglomerates and cheekily renamed boroughs is the tale of two woefully mismatched people, perhaps the only two characters with any real understanding of the world that existed before their time (Lenny compares Eunice to her “ahistorical” peers). Told from the dual perspectives of Lenny’s personal journals and Eunice’s GlobalTeens account (think Facebook but scarier), their relationship highlights the driving conflict of the novel: the desire to connect with other human beings on an interpersonal level in a world where that’s not possible. Halfway through the book, Lenny muses on his status with Eunice: “Any gap between us was a failure. Success would come when neither of us knew where one ended and the other began.”For Shteyngart, success comes when he pares down his sometimes intrusive futuristic trappings and focuses on the small bits of humanity with which he manages to imbue his ambitious tale.