Words, Words, Words
As its mouthful-of-a-title suggests, Super Sad True Love Story is a super-ambitious book. But super may be the only part of the title that pans out in Gary Shteyngart's novel about a nightmarish near-future America overrun by consumerism and obsessed with youth. In Shteyngart's dystopian satire, America is at war with Venezuela and economically dependent on China—which is threatening to pull away—and the general public is at the mercy of a constantly streaming information and sensory overload that renders both privacy and books virtually obsolete.
At the center of the novel is the tragic figure of 39-year-old Lenny Abramov, the earnest, intelligent, rather awkward and unattractive son of Russian-Jewish immigrants who sells "indefinite life extensions," and who, having fallen in love with a 24-year-old Korean-American beauty named Eunice Park, is determined to live forever. The couple's doomed romance is unconvincing from the start, at least in part because Lenny and Eunice are stock characters. He's the needy, nerdy Jew-boy; she's the beautiful, opportunistic and hypersexual Asian woman. (It is perhaps worth noting—or at any rate, Shteyngart expects us to note—that the author is the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, and his wife is Korean-American.)
In a world where books are archaic and widely believed to smell bad, Lenny persists in reading (Chekhov and Tolstoy are among his favorites), as Eunice is "freaked . . . out" to observe. As if reading weren't bad enough, Lenny also keeps a diary, which constitutes half of the narration of this novel. The other half comes in the form of Eunice's online correspondence. Eunice is a prototypical twenty-something in this hyper-digitized world, where "apparati"—futuristic iPhones—give people access to each other's credit and sexual desirability ratings, among other things, and her messages are a pastiche of internet slang and vulgarities, and talk of clothes.