Super Sad True Love Story: A Novel

by Gary Shteyngart

Hardcover, 2010

Status

Available

Publication

Random House, (2010)

Description

A dark tale of America's dysfunctional coming years, and of the timeless and tender feelings that just might bring us back from the brink.

Media reviews

Shteyngart writes with an obvious affection for America — at its most chilling, Super Sad True Love Story comes across as a cri de coeur from an author scared for his country. The biggest risk for any dystopian novel with a political edge is that it can easily become humorless or didactic; Shteyngart deftly avoids this trap by employing his disarming and absurd sense of humor (much of which is unprintable here). Combined with the near-future setting, the effect is a novel more immediate — and thus more frightening, at least for contemporary readers — than similarly themed books by Orwell, Huxley and Atwood.
3 more
Shteyngart's novel is light on plot but studded with hilarious and sometimes depressing details of our culture's decay.... But what pulls on our affections and keeps the satire from growing too brittle is Lenny's earnest voice as he struggles to fit into a world that clearly has no more use for him.... The best satire is always grounded in optimism: faith in the writer's power to gibe and cajole a dormant conscience to reform. And if that doesn't work, well, the future really isn't very far away after all, and we should listen to Lenny's ever-younger boss: "Brush up on your Norwegian and Mandarin."
Gary Shteyngart’s wonderful new novel, “Super Sad True Love Story,” is a supersad, superfunny, superaffecting performance — a book that not only showcases the ebullient satiric gifts he demonstrated in his entertaining 2002 debut, “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook,” but that also uncovers his abilities to write deeply and movingly about love and loss and mortality. It’s a novel that gives us a cutting comic portrait of a futuristic America, nearly ungovernable and perched on the abyss of fiscal collapse, and at the same time it is a novel that chronicles a sweetly real love affair as it blossoms from its awkward, improbable beginnings.
It's said that good satire should afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. On finishing Super Sad True Love Story, you feel both bruised and consoled at once.

User reviews

LibraryThing member Smiler69
The time is the near future, as in possibly next week. Lenny Abramov, a thirty-nine year-old New Yorker and the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, is balding and visibly going grey, neither short nor tall at five foot nine, and going soft around the middle. He's a salesman for Post-Human Services, a company which offers miraculous rejuvenation treatments and eternal life to HNWIs (high net worth individuals) and is obsessed with the fact that he can't afford the treatments for himself.

America is now a police state and bankrupt, with the devaluated dollar pegged to the Chinese yuan. The only thing more important than being young and beautiful in this society is having a good line of credit, being an active consumer and being plugged into the latest model äppärät at all times. A futuristic smart-phone-like device which, presumably to reflect how much room it takes in people's lives, also takes lots of room in the novel, the äppärät allows strangers to view each others personal information and history, including the all-important credit ranking, places of study, employment and residence, sexual preferences, and desirability score, actually referred to as 'f***ability score', in keeping with the general unsubtle attitude toward sex in this society. To wit, the latest fashions include nipple-less bras and 'onionskin jeans' which leave nothing to the imagination. The only thing that Lenny loves more than his 740 square-feet condo in downtown Manhattan and its wall of books—now out of print since nobody reads anymore—is Eunice Parks, a beautiful, slender, superficial and cruel twenty-four year-old Korean girl. Undeterred by the continuous jibes she throws his way about being a nerd and an unattractive loser, our sweet-natured Lenny is convinced that he can help Eunice become a kinder and gentler person simply by loving her with everything he's got.

The book is told from their individual point of view, with Lenny's diary entries alternating with transcripts of Eunice's personal incoming and outgoing communications with her mother and sister, and also her best friend, whom she affectionately calls names most appropriately used in porno-speak, which is apparently the way all young people communicate with each other in a society where pornography has been completely assimilated into the mainstream. Things become dangerous when bands of LNWI (low net worth individuals) try to mount an uprising and are violently quashed by the national guard and the whole country enters in a state of emergency.

I'm having a hard time deciding what I thought about this book. There's no question that it was entertaining. No question either that it was disturbing, as it was intended to be, with Shteyngart describing a future which is not that far removed from the realm of likely possibilities. It was slow going as far as the reading of it went, in large part because of the language used, with countless expressions and acronyms that are a common mode of communication in a visuals-driven society where 'talking' is now referred to as 'verballing'. This book was given to me as a Christmas present along with a gift receipt in case I didn't find it to be quite my thing, and take this as you will, but I've decided to take advantage of the store's generous no-questions-asked return policy and exchange it for something that I'm likely to find ultimately more satisfying. I was going to give a lower rating, but gave this book three stars in the end because of the sheer entertainment factor.
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LibraryThing member helpfulsnowman
Lots of buzz about this book. Honestly, there was nothing really bad about it. But it just wasn't for me. We're in the near future, and it's a big deal that America is now near the bottom of the economic totem pole, people really don't talk and are always fiddling with their iPhone/Facebook/technology devices rather than talking to each other, and Big Brother is back, baby. Kind of true, but just because it's an extension of the truth doesn't make it fascinating.

I like my futures either totally awesome or complete shit. Jetsons or the Road. The idea that we will be doing basically the same shit in the future, just with better resolution and faster connections, is very likely, very realistic, and highly uninteresting. After awhile I was reading a couple pages and saying, "Yeah, I get it. We are still assholes in the future, and we still don't really want to talk to anyone and still sort of do. Message received. Let's have a story now."
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LibraryThing member bragan
This romance/satire is set in a near future whose elements read like a catalog of America's worst domestic fears from the past decade or so: economic collapse, unemployment, progression from governmental security-mania to a full-blown police state, a complete lack of privacy, a near lack of literacy, social media gone mad, corporations gone mad, rampant militarism, shameful failure to Support Our Troops, problems with immigrants, problems for immigrants, political unrest, owing our souls to the Chinese, and, of course, the ever-present, neurosis-inducing possibility of each of us growing old and fat.

I have terribly mixed feelings about this book. On the negative side -- and it's a pretty hard-to-ignore negative -- are the main characters, Lenny and Eunice. She's shallow, he's a born loser, and their love story is less "super sad" and more just plain pathetic, based as it is almost entirely on mutual neediness and low self-esteem. I know complaining about this may seem like missing the point, as I'm sure we're meant to identify with their human weaknesses and to long for them to grow to the point where they're capable of something more mature. But that's a bit difficult when when you find yourself actively disinclined to extend the characters any sympathy. This really shouldn't have happened, as Lenny, at least, is a character I ought to be able to relate to. He's a bookish, thoughtful person in a world where those things aren't valued, and that's a pretty good description of my life back in junior high. Unfortunately, though, when we first meet him, he's cultivating a creepy, vaguely stalkerish obsession with Eunice in the wake of a tawdry and unsatisfying one-night stand, making a conscious and concentrated effort to refocus his entire life around a self-serving fantasy version of a woman he barely knows. Then he badgers her to come to him, despite her obvious lack of interest, until she finally gives in just because she needs a place to stay. And, yeah... I don't care how common this sort of thing is in literature, for me it's disturbing and unpleasant in a way that there's just really no recovering from. Ever. It doesn't matter how much Shteyngart later tries to portray Lenny as really rather romantic and sweet, in his own dorkish way. As far as I'm concerned it falls on deaf ears, and any possible connection or empathy I might have felt for the guy is dead before it's begun.

Remarkably enough, though, Shteyngart actually makes a pretty good run at writing a book I'm capable of truly enjoying despite my principled distaste for the main characters. From the very first page, I was delighted by the liveliness and intelligence of the writing and impressed by the deftness of the satire, which manages to blend a little bit of the pleasantly ridiculous with a whole lot of the frighteningly plausible. The novel almost managed to support itself on the strength of that alone for about a hundred pages or so, but, alas, eventually it reached the point where the freshness started to wear off and I began to feel impatient with it. It did get better towards the end, when the plot gains some unexpected heft, but sadly it never did quite recapture that initial charm. Which is somewhat frustrating, because I can easily imagine a version of this story that I would have loved unreservedly.
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LibraryThing member GCPLreader
just loved this unputdownable, ingenious, dystopian novel-- It's the near future-- citizens rarely "verbal" with one another, all prefer to text and stream and shop and rate(fuckability ratings for all are a fun way to pass the time at a bar!) and research on their apparats. Everyone's credit rating flashes in public view--all are encouraged to shop and spend. Women are wearing see-through "onion skin" jeans and nippleless bras that they purchase from AssLuxury.
And yet in the midst of this (foreseeable) hilarity, there is the sweetest character I've ever known in print. Lenny Abramov, 39-years old and nearing death, works for a cell-regeneration company that can guarantee immortality to the very rich and very highly credit ranked. (Sadly, he doesn't qualify)
And Lenny falls in love.
Oh, Lenny, Oh, Lenny, Oh, Lenny

I highly recommend Super Sad True Love Story. (I've decided on a half star deduction from the full 5 stars because certain aspects of the story like otters and details of finance left me a tad bewildered. But, this book warrants a second reading, so I'm sure I'll come away with a full understanding next time)
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LibraryThing member memccauley6
In a not-too-distant dystopian future alternate universe (got that?) Lenny Abramov, son of Russian Jewish immigrants, falls for Eunice Park, daughter of Korean immigrants. Told in a series of electronic notes and journal entries, the story of the romance between underachieving Lenny and materialistic Eunice follows a path that will surprise no one in the American digital age.

While this book cleverly skewers material and electronic obsessed urbanites, tilts at the windmills of politics and society… I can’t help but feel I’ve read it before. Shteyngart is a gifted writer, but I wish he would give us a more substantial story, a character with more soul than his usual sad sack Russian Jewish slob.
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LibraryThing member klburnside
This book is a futuristic dystopia that had me absolutely terrified for what our world may come to. It takes place in the not so distant future where the United States is a fascist state, China is the new world superpower, and social media and other technologies have taken over. No one reads anymore, and books are considered dirty and smelly. Everyone has these little devices they wear around their necks that seem to be an advanced version of the iphone, constantly sending and recieving data about everything from their credit scores to their opinions about the attractiveness of the person across the restaurant.

The main character of the story is a middle aged man who is sad and lonely and doesn't really like the direction the world is heading, but doesn't know what to do about it. He wants real connection, but buys into the idea that he has to stay hip and up with the times to be happy and successful. There's a love story entwined in all of this, but it really is super sad, and not in a way that makes you feel good in the end, just kind of bummed out.

There were some moments of humorous satire, but overall the storyline wasn't that engaging, and the whole book just felt kind of lonely.
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LibraryThing member suetu
Super sad, super satirical—it’s just SUPER!

At one point when I was reading this disturbing satirical look at a possible American future, I just thought, “Wait! How did we get there from here? How did we get from the America I know to a totalitarian nation on the verge of financial and political collapse?” And in the next moment, unbidden, I thought, “It’s a totally logical projection.”

Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story is provoking some strong responses. It’s polarizing. It’s disturbing. It IS funny, but you know how humor is, so subjective. What I find uproarious, you’ll find imbecilic. As a great man said, “So it goes.” Perhaps one of the reasons the novel is so provocative is that despite the absurd humor and the extremity of Shteyngart’s vision, his satirical eye is dead on. He’s got us pegged.

As for the plot, it’s an epistolary novel, a romance related from the pages of Lenny Abramov’s diary and Eunice Park’s emails and instant messages. Poor, sweet, neurotic Lenny. He’ll never be the best looking guy in the room, but he has other redeeming qualities. He’s kind, sincere, loving, fiscally responsible, a reader and a thinker. Unfortunately, 39-year-old Lenny lives in an aggressively vulgar and illiterate culture that is obsessed with youth, beauty, and consumerism. The object of his affection is the much younger, much hotter Eunice. It’s an unlikely match, but I was actually touched as the relationship progressed, all the while fearing for Lenny’s tender heart.

There is so much I could write about this novel! The fact that Lenny works in the indefinite life preservation industry, based on the idea that if you’re rich enough you never have to die. His boss, Joshie Goldman, is a post-adolescent septuagenarian. The fact that LNWI (Low Net Worth Individuals) have formed a tent city in Central Park, and there are armed National Guardsmen all over the New York. The very idea of privacy is essentially a thing of the past. Everyone wears a device that simultaneously connects them online and broadcasts the most intimate details of their lives, and people—lliterally—feel they can’t live without the constant stream of data. The dystopian near future that Shteyngart has created is so rich and fully realized and so worthy of contemplation and discussion. I can barely touch on the ideas he explores in a few paragraphs.

It is worth mentioning just how strong his writing is as well. Even in the midst of the tortured language used by his characters, I found his prose to be a joy to read. There were interesting subtleties to the end of the novel, and I’m not completely sure I understood everything. Rather than weaken the ending, I find this to be a strength. I’ll be pondering Eunice’s decisions for some time, and look forward to discussing the end with friends. Yeah, this one’s going to stick with me for a while.
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LibraryThing member tangledthread
I bought this book after hearing the author interviewed by Terri Gross. Sadly, the best parts of the book were what he read in that interview.

The story reminded me a little bit of a 21st century Woody Allen. But the writing felt very gimmicky.
LibraryThing member nivramkoorb
My first book by Shteyngart and I give it 5 stars for its' inventiveness and the way it takes our current situation in America and extends it to a possible logical conclusion. As my view point is of one from the upper end of the baby boomer generation, I tend to see our current social network takeover as a possible negative thing. Gary creates an extensive world of language etc. that alone gives the book a high rating. I always find it interesting that people give negative ratings to books where they dislike the characters. The fact that you can dislike a character says a lot about the authors ability to at least create something real that you can dislike. For those people that have trouble with our current state of affairs, I highly recommend this book. My only negative was the epilogue which took a long period of time and summarized it very quickly. It was as if Shteyngart ran out of energy to find a more creative ending to the novel. A minor point. I will certainly read his previous novels.… (more)
LibraryThing member jasonlf
My five star rating is the average of six stars for sheer inventiveness of a world and exuberance of language. And four stars for the ability to sustain it over the course of a novel.

Super Sad True Love Story is set about 50 years in the future. The world is a super extreme version of aspects of ours. American has been reduced to three industries (Credit -- where men aspire to work, Retail -- where women aspire to work, and Media -- which is largely individuals live streaming their lives). Everyone carries around an iPhone-like device and spends most of their time social networking, ranking each other, shopping on line, etc. Occasionally they take a break from this to "verbal" with a friend. America lurches from financial crisis to financial crisis as corporations, foreign governments, and sovereign wealth funds all swoop in to take over. And the super-rich are becoming "post-humans" thanks to life extending treatments that promise immortality.

Set against this backdrop, the novel tells a love story in chapters that alternate between Lenny Abramov, a schlubby Jewish intellectual aspiring to immortality, and emails and chats from his much younger Korean girlfriend, Eunice Park. Both narrators are somewhat unreliable and the story moves along reasonably well, as the world around them disintegrates and a predictable triangle in their relationship appears.

The writing is hilarious and amazingly inventive, but has diminishing returns -- although never turning negative. And the plot is a decent enough scaffolding and keeps you interested from beginning to end. Overall, one of the best books of the year.
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LibraryThing member tboomer
Shteyngart's dystopian novel is set in America in an all too believable near-future. The country has defaulted on its debt. The economy consists of three sectors dedicated to urging the population to mindless consumption: Retail, Credit, Media. The government is run by the bipartisan party which mouths slogans of a free market democracy while pursuing a totalitarian agenda. The future of today's smartphone is a device called an äppärät that provides continuous news updates while exchanging credit scores, sexual desirability, and other personal information between the owner and everyone in his vicinity. This is the backdrop for the improbable love affair between the narrator, Lenny Abramov, and Eunice Park.

This book is a brilliant satire of current trends in politics, business, media and culture. It is also disturbingly resonant with headlines on almost a weekly basis.
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LibraryThing member maritimer
Shteyngart is clever and articulate and this novel is a very satisfying read. There are passages so beautiful that you keep going back to them, passages that especially contrast with all the exposition chat and emails that punctuate the book. The sad and scary future that Shteyngart has many of our current obsessions (shopping, handhelds, social media, borrowing) culminate in, is fascinating and believable. The love interest at the center though, Eunice Park, is a character so flat and uninteresting that it is impossible to feel Lenny's attraction to her. But that is okay - if I thought about it long enough I would probably understand why Shteyngart has Lenny investing himself so deeply in waters so shallow.… (more)
LibraryThing member Milda-TX
Some of the gags in this story about our dystopian near-future were slightly amusing. Otherwise, I couldn't have continued reading the 100 pages I did manage to finish before I gave up.
LibraryThing member AramisSciant
This super funny love story set in a dystopian world may well be Shteyngart’s best yet. I’ve always enjoyed his funny, satiric writing in previous novels but this is truly more than that. While he starts with taking familiar trends to ridiculous, funny extremes, as the novel progresses you see his talented writing goes well beyond satire. Reminded me of how
Chekhov's short stories begin as comedy but then can break your heart revealing just enough of the true feelings behind the characters. Must be a Russian thing :o)
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LibraryThing member Seven.Stories.Press
I've read a good deal of dystopian fiction, and I found this book to be rather unique in that it seems quite plausible given the current state of the world. Perhaps all novels in the genre are like this, at the time of publication, but rather than offering up a clear picture of a totalitarian state, this book gives an account of the collapse of US based more on culture than politics. Any nefarious deeds or political commentary is a backdrop to the psychology of the characters and their all-consuming consumerism. And it's all in NYC, as though Manhattan's finally achieved what its current residents tell themselves is true: the rest of the country doesn't much matter.

This isn't a particularly easy read, but it is stimulating and entertaining, moreso if one is a fan of dystopian works.
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LibraryThing member ben_h
I liked the idea a lot: the contrast between a literate, neurotic and introverted geek, and a post-literate image-obsessed digital native is definitely relevant to the moment. And there are parts--when Lenny seems to realize his obsolescence, or when Eunice catches a hint of her inadequacy--that are genuinely moving. But there's also a lot of window dressing, with details drawn in that don't seem to do much, story-wise. It's a simple story, really. The satire is built into the characters and the setting; extended comic riffs only serve to distract, like the class clown going for yuks in the back row. Does this reflect Shteyngart's lack of confidence in his material? Is it an attempt to play to the peanut gallery, to give them broad humor in case they don't get the satire? Whatever the cause, I would have liked this book a lot better if it didn't try so hard. In this, Shteyngart could take advice from that other near-future satirist, Douglas Coupland. Coupland's characters aren't clowns; they're just folks. Comedy, for me at least, is best when it's not laughing at its own jokes.… (more)
LibraryThing member ebnelson
Although the book’s pop tone and frequent raunch culture references gives the impression that Shteyngart’s work lacks the seriousness of dystopian classics like Brave New World or Fahrenheit 491, that impression fades near the book’s midpoint as the reader realizes that the author’s insights into our technological and cultural trajectories are accurate enough to make you believe that the word “true” belongs in the title. The narrative’s power comes primarily from the characters and their interaction with their world. Shteyngart creates a world where people interact with technology much the same why we do today, the only difference is in his world people don’t feel ashamed by interacting with others through their digital devices. It’s the culture’s lack of shame—for it is a culture which was breed on the notion that our ID’s desires should not be hidden, but rather broadcasted--that seems the only distinction between the Super Sad America and our own. It is also, I believe, Shteyngart’s justification for the vulgarity and pervasive sexuality, one that, in the end, I can’t argue with given the truth of it all.

The truth is on display in nearly every word, especially in the sections composed by the young heroine. I found myself adopting the vocabulary of the book not only in my internal monologue but in my speech. Again, Shteyngart anticipates what hip and efficient world that is to come by creating vocabulary which could be well utilized in our world, if only our shame didn’t prevent us from being so blunt.

The primacy given to relationships and the importance of physical place function as a phenomenal critique of our Gnostic world, which, in the end, doesn’t bring the reader to a redemptive place, but to be fair, it never claims to be anything but a sad story.

The only significant criticism I have of the work is its epilogue. Part two of this section was particularly offensive--like having DaVinci writing analysis of the Mona Lisa on the work’s canvas. (I apologize, that last metaphor is horribly obtuse, and certainly unworthy in a review of writing that is so unlike that.)
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LibraryThing member ArtRodrigues
This book may be the Brave New World and/or Fahrenheit 451 of our generation. Initially, I had a little trouble getting into the plot and digesting the author's use of e-mail-like transmissions between characters and their jargon, but once I adjusted to the frightening glimpse of the future new world Mr. Shteyngart creates I found myself hooked. The setting is New York City presumbably in the not-to-distant future. The U.S. is falling apart, having just fought and lost a war in Venezula. The dollar is worthless, replaced by the Chinese Yuan. Rogue elements of the National Guard roam the streets and compete with armed personnel from corporations, and the country is ruled by the ill-defined Bipartisan Party. Talking is passe, as people communicate via I-Pod like devices called apparati. Poles are erected everywhere that transmit people's credit scores as they walk by. As the love story between Lenny and Eunice evolves, the city and nation gradually disintegrate in ways not too difficult to imagine given our current state of affairs. I rate this five stars on cleverness and originality alone.… (more)
LibraryThing member Sleepym
Provoking ideas with Apparats, the way people rank each other's fuckability instantly, the things like credit poles, totalsurrender ot Onionskin jeans..
And for Eunice and Lenny.. They are pretty self occupied people and their love, if it really was love, is not super sad true but rather super depressing.… (more)
LibraryThing member andyram
This book feels eerily like a foreshadowing of the future, or atleast one of the futures we are heading towards. One where the phrase Invasion of Privacy seems truly archaic, and where the broadcast of one's self is expected to be relentless in its frankness as well as its frequency. And in the midst of this, there is a love story which feels doomed from its very birth. It almost seems like the author knowingly presents such a future which one can relate to, where things are dire, and where the love story feels entirely fated to failure, and presents it in the certainty that the reader will still read with that unquenchable Hope for the people and the world they inhabit. That's the essence of every tragedy, where the destiny is fated, but the journey is made with hope in the future nevertheless. Superb book.… (more)
LibraryThing member kaipakartik
A brilliant book. Just goes to show that funniest books are actually tragedies. The future it presents is eerily close and feels scary to say the least. I hope the what he says does not happen but a small part of me says that it will.
The novel is set in a America of the future and is largely about the story of the Lenny Abramov, a jew who also happens to be a Russian immigrant and a much younger korean Eunice. The world goes haywire even as they fall in love. Everyone uses a device called an apparat which seems like an extension of cell phones. This is an innovation that tells you everything you need to know about the room and tells you everything you need to know. How you rank in it and so on so forth. Scary to say the least. Funny when applied to the predicament of Lenny. Reading is frowned upon and thought to be outdated. Its all streams, images and visuals in the future. In short it takes every predicament that seems to be affecting the world at present and extrapolates it into the future.
A beautiful novel, an easy and thought provoking read.
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LibraryThing member EpicTale
The first Shteyngart book I picked up, I read SSTLS through to the end. Why do I see this as an accomplishment? Mostly because the main characters all suck -- not one was worth liking or feeling sympathetic towards; and, for me, such a construction is a kiss of death. Moreover, the narrative voice was way too heavy-handed; and the book contained far too many insider jokes about New York City (fabulous place though it is) which only its hippest contemporary denizens would appreciate or chuckle about. Yet, despite all the book's shortcomings (to include the story's silly, no-longer au courant premise about a military attack on the U.S. by expeditionary Venezuelan conquistadors), I appreciated Shteyngart's cautionary satire about today's shallow, thoughtless American society and his ideas about where our collective bad habits might land us in the future. Unfortunately, the future that the book sketches out is not terribly far-fetched; though fortunately, of course, what goes on in the New York bubble bears little or no relevance for the rest of us.… (more)
LibraryThing member gayla.bassham
This is not a terrible book. It is also not a great book. I have to admit I do not understand its appearance on lists of the year's best books. It has not necessarily been a sparkling year for literature, but this is not one of the year's best books. It is frustrating book because I really liked Lenny's voice, and I could see some potential. Unfortunately, Shteyngart felt compelled to throw every single idea he has ever had into this book, and then to surround all of these ideas with a half-baked science fiction/political satire milieu. It does not work. It isn't witty or pointed enough to be a strong political satire, nor is it well thought out enough to be good science fiction.

And yet. There is potential here. Lenny is a good character, and there is poignancy to his voice. I wish the book about him had been done better. Then it really might have been one of the best books of the year.
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LibraryThing member nosajeel
My five star rating is the average of six stars for sheer inventiveness of a world and exuberance of language. And four stars for the ability to sustain it over the course of a novel.

Super Sad True Love Story is set about 50 years in the future. The world is a super extreme version of aspects of ours. American has been reduced to three industries (Credit -- where men aspire to work, Retail -- where women aspire to work, and Media -- which is largely individuals live streaming their lives). Everyone carries around an iPhone-like device and spends most of their time social networking, ranking each other, shopping on line, etc. Occasionally they take a break from this to "verbal" with a friend. America lurches from financial crisis to financial crisis as corporations, foreign governments, and sovereign wealth funds all swoop in to take over. And the super-rich are becoming "post-humans" thanks to life extending treatments that promise immortality.

Set against this backdrop, the novel tells a love story in chapters that alternate between Lenny Abramov, a schlubby Jewish intellectual aspiring to immortality, and emails and chats from his much younger Korean girlfriend, Eunice Park. Both narrators are somewhat unreliable and the story moves along reasonably well, as the world around them disintegrates and a predictable triangle in their relationship appears.

The writing is hilarious and amazingly inventive, but has diminishing returns -- although never turning negative. And the plot is a decent enough scaffolding and keeps you interested from beginning to end. Overall, one of the best books of the year.
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LibraryThing member TheAmpersand
It took me a while to figure out, but the biggest problem that I had with Gary Shteyngart's "Absurdistan" was the way that it more-or-less disregarded all objections to the culture of global capitalism. The book got big-time Western capitalism's appeal right, and seemed to criticize those who see poorer, less developed places as automatically more "spiritual" or "pure," but Shteyngart reduced any of its critics to broad ethnic caricatures, cutting off any meaningful debate about whether globalization ultimately dehumanizes people or lets them become more fully human.

So "Super Sad True Love Story" was sort of a surprise for me. The book seems to be a geometric projection of the least-beneficial elements of globalization on the American landscape: environmental degradation, income inequality, the loss of manufacturing jobs, the rise of digital culture. It is, in other words, Absurdistan's flip-side. Lenny Abramov, the book's nebbishy, insecure main character, often comes off as the mirror image of the wealthy, shameless, sybarite that he built "Absurdistan" around. Does it work? Sometimes, I think. Shteyngart's parodies of social media's weird, chirpy argot and post-9/11 government doublespeak often spot-on and funny for all the wrong reasons. He also seems to sense the cruelty hidden in the specific ways in which many Americans strive for power, money, youth, status, and recognition: "Super Sad True Love Story" is what happens when "Lookin' Out for Number One" gets taken to its logical extreme. Even so, a profound middle-aged crankiness pervades this book: the novel might as well have been titled "Kids These Days." It might not be entirely unconnected to the author's advancing age, and, if the jacket photo is any indication, severe male-pattern baldness. We see most of its main characters, with the notable exception of the young, radiant Eunice Park, celebrate milestones that usually celebrate the coming of middle age: marriages, babies, a withdrawal from "the scene." He doesn't make it seem easy. But I also think that Shteyngart underestimates how often young people yearn for time periods they never knew. Young people aren't always futurists, after all: did he miss all those suspenders and elaborately waxed mustaches as he was walking around Brooklyn? The coming of a digital culture only means that a large-ish sector of the population will romanticize paper books and handwritten notes, just as people have been fetishizing the "warm" sound of vinyl records ever since compact discs became available.

"Super Sad True Love Story" also seems be asking itself how we can tell the difference between what's ephemeral and what really stays with us. As a unified American identity slides out of view, the main character seems to spend more time considering his stolid, unchanging parents and their Russian/Jewish heritage: an island of physical and cultural stability in a sea of chaos. In the same vein, the book also seems to be a love letter to a socially promiscuous, defiantly multicultural New York which might also be fading from view thanks to the unofficial segregation brought on by sharply diverging income levels. While this is a political book, it's tone is often more melancholy than hectoring, and it's anything but optimistic. Lenny Abramov is, after all, one of New York's last remaining readers. "Super Sad True Love Story" sometimes seems like a book that asks why we should write literature and comes up with few answers. It's a good thing, then, that Shteyngart's prose can be so good: it's got a natural flowing, lyricism, a drop-dead precision to it that makes its most annoying characters' musings seem important and worth reading. Maybe sometimes old guys are worth listening to sometimes, huh?
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