Sunday, December 26, 2010

Super Sad True Love Story

Have you ever seen a trailer for books? They're sort of a new fangled thing and as such, the quality isn't what you would expect from a "trailer". Here's the trailer for Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story:

While entertaining, the trailer has just about zero to do with the book. I read Shteyngart's first novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook, earlier this year and thought it was good, not great. My friend Jason read Shteyngart's second book, Absurdistan, and felt it, too, was a decent but unspectacular read.

I guess the third time is the charm because Super Sad True Love Story is fantastic. And while there is humor in it, the book is mostly dark.

The story is set primarily in New York in the not too distant future. The fact that it is not too distant is part of what makes the book so dark. In Shteyngart's future, everyone is attached to their äppärät, a smartphone type device that broadcasts personal details about the user. Furthermore, people use them constantly to rate others around them on their personality and, ahem, sexworthiness (a different term is used). The most important measure of a person, though, is their credit rating. This is partly because the United States has become completely indebted to other countries. The euro and the yuan have become the world currency standards. As to what people do for a living, the predominant jobs are Media and Retail.

SSTLS (we'll abbreviate) alternates between being told by two characters. One, Lenny Abramov, is a 39-year old, ugly Russian immigrant (typical of all of Shteyngart's stories) who works for a firm that is pitching immortality to High Net Worth Individuals. He actually keeps a diary (people complain to Lenny on a plane about the smell of a book he pulls out on a plane. Print readers of the future are treated much like smokers are nowadays) and the diary makes up the bulk of the book.

The other character, Eunice Park, is a smoking hot Korean woman in her early twenties who Lenny falls in love with when he is sent on sales calls in Europe. The feeling isn't exactly mutual but Eunice ends up moving in with Lenny. Her story is told through messages to her GlobalTeens account, an international online communication system which seems similar to Facebook.

All in all, it's quite the satire. The obsession with the electronic devices leads to live personal interaction with people being a novelty. Having a conversation with someone is to "verbal" them. Likewise, the detachment from live interaction has led to sex being rather emotionless. Onionskin jeans are popular clothing for women that are transparent pants, usually worn without underwear, to showcase a woman's body. This, of course, helps that sexworthiness rating.

On the political/financial front, Shteyngart's world is comprised of huge corporations formed by megamergers such as LandO’LakesGMFordCredit Bank. Many countries are owned by these companies. The U.S. has become a military state with the Secretary of State being the primary political official.

Then there is the company for which Lenny works. His boss, a 70 year old man who looks much younger through the processes his firm sells, is well-connected and when the United States collapses at the end of the story, his power (and lust for Eunice) becomes more apparent.

I don't know how much of a love story this is. It isn't true (yet). Not even sure it's sad. I did think the book was super, though, and definitely worth checking out.

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