The first week back at Post-Human Services is over and nothing terrible happened. Howard Shu hasn’t asked me to do any Intakes yet, but I’ve spent the week hanging out at the Eternity Lounge, fiddling with my pebbly new äppärät 7.5 with RateMe Plus technology, which I now proudly wear pendant-style around my neck, getting endless updates on our country’s battle with solvency from CrisisNet while downloading all my fears and hopes in front of my young nemeses in the Eternity Lounge, talking about how my parents’ love for me ran too hot and too cold, and how I want and need Eunice Park even though she’s so much prettier than I deserve – basically, trying to show these open-source younguns just how much data and old “intro” geezer like me is willing to share. So far I’m getting shouts of “gross” and “sick” and “TIMATOV,” which I’ve learned means Think I’m About to Openly Vomit, but I also found out that Darryl, the guy with the SUK DIK bodysuit and the red bandana, has been posting nice things about me on his GlobalTeens stream called “101 People We Need to Feel Sorry For.” At the same time, I heard the ticka-ticka-ticka of The Boards as Darryl’s mood indicator fell from “positive/playful/ready to contribute” to “annoying the heck out of Joshie all week.” His cortisol levels are a mess too. Just a little more stress on his part and I’ll get my desk back. Anyway, all this passes for progress, and soon I’ll be hitting the Intakes, proving my worth, trying to corner the market in Joshie’s affection and reclaim my big-man-on-campus status in time for the Labor Day tempeh stir-fry. Also, I’ve spent an entire week without reading any books or talking about them too loudly. I’m learning to worship my new äppärät’s screen, the colorful pulating mosaic of it, the fact that it knows every last stinking detail about the world, whereas my books only know the minds of their authors.
Lenny is a 39 year-old first generation American, the only child of Mr. and Mrs. Abramov, who fled the Soviet Union and its demise, only to arrive in time for the demise of the United States. America has become credit obsessed in the extreme, and has fallen to the status of second-world country, behind the super economies of China and Korea. The dollar is pegged to the Yuan, smart people are learning Mandarin and Norwegian, and the obsession with health and living forever has become ridiculous in the extreme. Streets are adorned with credit poles, which display a passing person’s credit rating to the world around them, determining their value and whether they are worth going after to make a sale. People are adorned with äppäräti, the iPhone/Blackberry of the future, which displays your credit, cholesterol, emotional state, and desirability to any and all around you, and gives you the same information about them. The culture is obsessed with consumerism to the extreme, and the puppet government tries to convince people that it is their patriotic duty to shop and spend. Young women especially are hyper-sexualized, seeking out the thrill that they see in using their sex for power, but without any depth or meaning. Much like the desire to acquire endlessly, without an understanding of the importance of people, of friends, of family.
Lenny meets and falls instantly for Eunice Park, the much younger first-generation American daughter of an abusive Korean podiatrist father, who beats his wife and daughters. In her, Lenny sees not only someone he can love, but also someone who he can repair and protect. He is attracted to her beauty, health, and youth, but also to her as a first-generation American, like himself, one who at least attempts to understand the importance of family in his identity and his life. He may not want to spend a lot of time with his parents, but he loves them deeply and wants them to be OK.
Super Sad True Love Story follows their relationship in the midst of the violent overthrow of the United States, their attempts to love each other despite their many differences, their attempts to protect each other and those they love, and to understand their place in the world around them. I liked this book quite a bit, though there were times when Gary Shteyngart’s descriptions of the corrupt corporate culture and the functionally illiterate people populating America rang both too clever and sharp, and too close to a very possible future. The message seems to be, hug your books close to you, put down your Facebook once in awhile, because in this world halfway between Blade Runner and Sleeper, there’s no room for real thought, real discourse, or real connection between fellow human beings. It is Lenny and Eunice’s stumbling attempts to attain these very things that save the book from pure painful satire, and give it a very real, very tender heart.
If you’re a fan of Fresh Air with Terry Gross, you can read and/or hear her interview with Shteyngart here.