Incredible. I’ve just– as in three minutes ago– finished Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story, and am hovering in a state of grateful amazement. Along with David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, the book lays bare one of the possible logical outcomes of contemporary tech obsession intricately interwoven with compulsive consumerism. He and Wallace have very different ways of going about their projects, of course; for one thing, Shteyngart’s style, on the surface, might appear to be that of just another smirking New York hipster, and the very smart tale he weaves doesn’t involve much verbal density or complex Dickensian plotting. But damn– my aforementioned amazement comes with the way in which that style is solidly grounded in a profound insight into contemporary life, and in understanding just where that sort of life may lead, plunging into all the cheap pettiness without either falling prey to it or sliding into pretentious philosophizing in protest.
And the characters! Lenny is no hero– nor is he its opposite. Just a guy who’s smart enough to recognize the absurdity around him, and maybe insightful enough to get a hint at the depth of its wrongness– but not courageous enough, on a variety of levels, to go against the malevolent grain. In many ways, this is just as much Eunice’s story as it is her weak admirer’s: the gradual development, within a functioning, accepted and acceptable member of a shallow society, of a bit of conscience, enough of it, at least, to feel dissatisfied with all options, and to muster the strength to go along with a choice she knows is practical, even if blameworthy. I’m not aligning myself with one of the story’s fictional critics of the Lenny-Eunice tale, who asserts that the girl’s bit of coming-to-awareness is the real meat of this adventure. But the development of a nascent consciousness in the heroine of her own complicity in what’s going on is of a different, almost faster and more insightful, sort than the one that tries and fails to make Lenny do anything meaningful.
I may be spouting a load of b.s., but right now, Shteyngart’s ability to put a pretty realistic spin on different reactions to moral conundra seems masterful. I read The Russian Debutante’s Handbook when it came out back in the ’90s or early 2000s, I think– and although it was pretty good, I’m really happy to see how far the author’s come since then. Although the universe of Super Sad might caution me from making the following statement, I’ll go ahead and say that this writerly growth somehow gives me hope, at least for the near future.