three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
48-Sept-Oct-2010
user_rating: 
0

A-SuperSadTrueLoveStoryBorn in Leningrad, Russian American novelist Gary Shteyngart received widespread praise for his novels, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (2003) and Absurdistan ( 3 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2006). His work has also appeared in the New York Times, Esquire, the New Yorker, Slate, Granta, Travel + Leisure, and GQ.

The Story: In a not-too-distant-future United States, dissolute, youth-fixated citizens--completely oblivious to the overburdened police state’s imminent financial and social collapse--sleep around, shop, and text, linked to the world and each other through omniscient, all-purpose smart phones called äppäräti. Amid this buzz, 39-year-old Lenny Abramov, a hopelessly antiquated salesman who hawks pricey "dechronification treatments," falls head over heels in love with an aimless, unemployed woman half his age, Eunice Park. To Eunice, at first, Lenny is a sympathetic ear and a place to crash in Manhattan. As she begins to develop feelings for her balding Romeo, the unlikely couple must try to shield their budding relationship from the world crumbling around them.
Random House. 334 pages. $26. ISBN: 9781400066407

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"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. ... In recounting the story of Lenny and Eunice in his antic, supercaffeinated prose, Mr. Shteyngart gives us his most powerful and heartfelt novel yet--a novel that performs the delightful feat of mashing up an apocalyptic satire with a genuine supersad true love story." Michiko Kakutani

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"The tone shifts recklessly, the action sometimes seems grafted on, and the structure--old-fashioned diary entries, instant messages and e-mails--is at times unwieldy. Doesn’t matter. It’s a wildly funny book that hums with the sheer vibrancy of Shteyngart’s prose, and that holds up a riotous, terrifying mirror to a corrupted American empire in decline." Jess Walter

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"This zany Russian immigrant loops the comedy of Woody Allen’s Sleeper through the grim insights of George Orwell’s 1984 to produce a Super Sad True Love Story that exposes the moral bankruptcy of our techno-lust. ... 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." Ron Charles

Entertainment Weekly 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The love-triangle plot unfolds through diary entries and e-mails, a gimmick that gets old pretty quickly. But Super Sad True Love Story is funny, on-target, and ultimately sad as it captures the absurdity and anxiety of navigating an increasingly out-of-control world." Rob Brunner

Los Angeles Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The [considerably weaker] Eunice sections aside, it is on the whole both frightening and devastatingly funny. What remains to be seen is whether its depiction of the fall of the American republic will turn out to have been frighteningly, devastatingly prescient." Troy Jollimore

Newsweek 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Super Sad is so depressing that about halfway through, you might be thinking seriously about bailing out on Shteyngart’s chilly vision of things to come. That would be a shame, because the second half is so much more powerful than what’s preceded it that it could be an altogether different novel." Malcolm Jones

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 3 of 5 Stars
"Eunice’s sections of the book are particularly funny; Shteyngart has always been able to see the humor in a half-cocked world as it slides toward madness. ... Shteyngart manufactures a series of crises that aren’t believable and that distract attention from the love story of the title." Mike Fischer

Critical Summary

"If we are indeed as oversexed, consumer-obsessed, gadget-distracted and dangerously superficial as Gary Shteyngart paints us in his exuberant and devastating new novel...--and let’s face it, we are--will such an acidly funny, prescient book be wasted on us?" ponders the San Francisco Chronicle. If the critics’ reactions are any indication, the answer is a resounding no. Juxtaposing Lenny’s brooding diary entries with Eunice’s self-absorbed text messages, Shteyngart crafts a chilling yet disturbingly familiar tech-addled dystopia. A few shortcomings, including some contrived plot developments and Lenny’s puzzling attraction to the vapid Eunice, distracted some critics, but they failed to mar Shteyngart’s overall vision. Living up to its title, Super Sad True Love Story skillfully balances a charming, poignant romance with a savagely funny send-up of American culture. Editor Jon was complaining in his letter about the lack of books by younger writers on today’s culture--here’s a book he should try.