***Warning: This post contains words you might find offensive. Stop reading if you can't take the heat.***
Cliffs Notes Version: I really enjoyed it!
Norton Critical Edition:
Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart almost escaped my notice. When I heard someone describe it as dystopian, I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame. The book tells the story of a sensationalized, desperate country as seen through the diary entries of Lenny Abramov, an almost-40 year old drone working at a life extension company, and GlobalTeen (think Facebook) posts of Eunice Park, a recent college grad seemingly caught between meeting only the expectations of the world around her and striving for a life with greater meaning. Am I revealing my bias a bit early?
Despite my immediate interest, the book turned me off pretty quickly once I started reading it. The United States has devolved into more of an authoritarian nation under the guise of the bipartisan party (not the part that bothered me). Really, it was the highly sexualized nature of this world that I found myself having to get used to. I don't consider myself a prude, but being plunged into a world where the girls* wear transparent jeans known as onion skins and favor underwear that pop off at the push of a button set my teeth on edge. The place to shop is known as Juicy Pussy and fuckability is rated and posted on everyone's äppäräti.
Because I'm stubborn I hung in there and was rewarded (see Cliffs Notes version above) for my efforts. Shteyngart essentially took many of the realities of today, added a little acid, and baked for 45 minutes at 450 degrees. The country is a downtrodden shell of its former self run by corporations and on the brink of selling its soul to China. Youth, consumerism, and media are what everyone values. In case you doubt this, just whip out your äppäräti and check your friends' credit rating, personality and hottness as compared to everyone else.
For me, Eunice's struggle was one of the more redeeming parts of the book. She's caught between honoring her Korean culture and family, living the life of a sex-crazed shopping genius, and searching for something more (both in love and her desire to help the downtrodden), and it's this complexity that grabs you.
This book left me with so much to say and struggling with how to do so. It's tempting to devote pages to analyzing the book and characters, but let's be real. I'm not hosting a lit class up in here, so I'll get to the point. The book, while clearly a satire, was not funny. Not once did I laugh or crack a smile. The world that Shteyngart creates could very easily be a thinly veiled look into our future, and frankly, I found it all too disturbing. Disturbing but thoughtful.
Coincidentally, I was reading this book around the time Facebook rolled out many of its newest features. Rumors of Facebook being able to post things I'm reading, watching, or listening to without me proactively clicking "like" is frighteningly similar to the world of Lenny and Eunice, and that, my friends, is a world that has gone a bit too far.
*Yes, girls. Youth run the world and are the hot commodity.