Monday, August 9, 2010

Disturbing Reading

Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel

I just finished Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, a satiric look at our (perhaps) not too distant future.

Shteyngart doesn't have to reach very far to project where our obsession with all things digital might take us. In the book, everyone has something called an apparat (in the book all the 'a's in that word have umlauts over them, which I can't figure out how to do on this blog page). These devices are mini computers which stream constant media and news as well as texts. It also constantly reads your own blood pressure, weight, credit score, personality quotient, and 'f---ability', and projects all of those readings to anyone else in the room as well, so anyone at any time can see all these things about you, just as you can see it about them.

Media, Image and pursuit of Youth (all highly sexualized) is the name of the game here. Working Retail (yes, that's Retail with a capital "R") is highly valued. Corporations have merged, as have our political parties (becoming one Bipartisan party), which in this book, do not serve us well.

Shteyngart has created quite a world, one which doesn't seem that implausible. Lenny doesn't seem to fit in it, though he does try. He falls in love with Eunice Park, a petite Korean woman who embodies what the culture deems as valuable, youth, beauty, hipness, and digitally connection. They are an unlikely pair, and at times I didn't find the love story completely believable, though mostly I just went with it.

The chapters alternate, one chapter is Lenny's diary entries, the next chapter is Eunice's 'teens' (emails or texts) to her family or friends. I sometimes found Lenny's chapters a bit boggy, never so with Eunice's.

I really liked how well Shteyngart describes this possible future, so incredibly digitally connected, how the corporations have changed and merged, how books are obsolete. (Lenny has a "Wall of Books" in his apartment, which he loves and others find distasteful.) Shteyngart captures how people still crave physical and emotional connection with other people, though they don't always know how to express it, often using their digital devices to connect with other people in the room rather than 'verballing' them, face to face.

Not necessarily a cheerful book, it has been compared to 1984 in its look at what we might become, though this one seems so much closer to what actually could happen, given our penchant for digital connection and valuing youth and media.

Where are we headed?


One of my co-workers just finished reading Jenn Ashworth's A Kind of Intimacy, which he described as part Stephen King's Misery and part Bridget Jones's Diary. He conceded that using Bridget Jones makes the book seem lighter than he wanted to convey. "Incredibly disturbing", is how he describes A Kind of Intimacy. No redemption, no hope. I have a few friends (including Therapist) who like to read darker books than I usually prefer. They may like this one.

Another co-worker, who said she might read A Kind of Intimacy, told me about Doris Lessing's The Fifth Child, which she said is also disturbing, about a family that has four perfect children and then the fifth one comes along with almost goblin-like features and a personality to match. Things don't go well.

The Fifth Child

Interesting stuff!

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