Book Review: Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart

First off, if you want to read a professional book review of this novel, here is what the New York Times has to say.

Now for my own experience with the novel.

One day- I am pretty sure I finished eating at Square Meal, which is awesome and I suppose possibly healthy dependent on your decisions- and it was still the middle of the summer, and I knew I had a bunch of flights ahead of me, and had just finished reading a very dark and devilish piece of non-fiction (The Devil in The White City to dream of yesterday and to-morrow and Chicago) and on the thought that I would be leaving New York for awhile wanted to grab ahold of a little piece of it to take with me to New Orleans.

I ended up stumbling into Carnegie Hill Books, in part because I was curious if we could leave postcards for an upcoming art show, but also because I have never taken the time to go in, and it was hot, and I needed a new book, and this copy was luckily signed by the author. I had already seen the trailer for SSTLS- which is sort of funny in it’s own right, the idea that a book should have a trailer- on NY Magazine.com, a site I still read religiously despite their failure to add us within their shop listings (although two different folks from the magazine have called us on separate occasions to fact check the listing. I could go on and on about how upsetting this is to me, but instead I will just hurry and share the link to the trailer.)

It is very funny. And it is very strange too, isn’t it? These faces, and voices of authors. That the world of YouTube and everything else can connect us so intimately to writers, see their faces, animated, and in action, and hear their voices. Maybe because most of my favorite writers are dead, and the idea that I have no clue what their voices may have sounded like, or anything apart from my imagination of how they might have behaved, in the same way an imagination works within the pages of a book, compared to on a television screen, or in the movies.  I saw an interview of Kurt Vonnegut on Charlie Rose once, and even that, seemed a little strange to me. It isn’t as if from there on out I liked his work any less, it was only that the scope of my imagination seemed somehow limited by seeing him live, and in “action.”

Anyway, the book, which has been much much talked about, and reviewed a hundred times over, takes place in Manhattan, and Staten Island, and Long Island in the not too distant future and deals very much with where we as a society are headed in terms of technology, education, America’s downfall, and the way in which this will affect how we communicate, how we read or don’t read texts, how much of our personal information will be free and “out” there for the world to see simply by pointing what is the future equivalent of an iphone at one another. Our credit, our “sustainability”, how attractive or unattractive we are, how we rate with the rest of the folks in the room, and on and on and on. Industries are interestingly divided as well, basically between, Credit, Media, and Retail. And nothing- which I suppose is a theme going back as far as can be- is more powerful, or valuable than youth.

And then their is the love story. And it is very funny. I know without a doubt though, that if this had been workshop’d in my Creative Writing class at Vandy, the teacher would have torn it to shreds as “male fantasy” mumbo-jumbo. I had a wonderful teacher, and one very aware of both the “male gaze” and maintaining “the dream” for the reader. She would say, and very plainly and definitively, “This isn’t how women speak, or act. This is how you want them to speak or act.” And because of all of her harsh lashings, and red pen’ngs of my manuscripts, I have a difficult time reading contemporary fiction without her on my shoulder.  But again, that being said, it is still very funny. And because of the author’s humor, you forgive these sort of outrageous, romanticized, idealized situations, ie unattractive old hairy man with jaw dropping twenty year old “girl” dancing and prancing in Cedar Hill. Some of it is a little too much. It breaks the dream of belief that otherwise is so carefully created and kept within in description.

In the end, I definitely recommend reading it. One, because chances are that none of us read enough contemporary American fiction and two, the last 50 pages fly by in excitement. And three, I picked up a Raymond Carver collection of short stories for my last flight down to New Orleans, and it is depressing as hell, and now I want to go buy Absurdistan in an effort to lighten up my mood.  And for the design minded- because I know you are out there- the cover (pictured above) of SSTLS will go down as one of the top book covers of the decade. I am almost sure of it.

Alla prossima,

Anthony

ps. One last critique- and I hate critics, in the end I am writing this post so more people read this book- but, you will notice, when you do read it, these long messages written from one character to another, and given the ever shortening of messages between our generation and the generation behind us, these looooong messages seem implausible if indeed things are headed the way in which the author sees them.

pss. Gary’s Facebook page is equally as funny as this book. And I recommend “Liking” it if you are inclined to do that sort of thing.

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