It’s the immediate future and Lenny Abramov, only child of Russian immigrants and a self-proclaimed old nerd, has had two important revelations while in Rome on business. First, he’s decided he’s never going to die. Second, he’s in love with Eunice Park.
In Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart, Lenny works for the Post-Human Services division of Staatling-Wapachung Corporation as a Life Lovers Outreach coordinator. His job is to look for HNWIs (High Network Individuals) to undergo experimental dechronification services. His company will make you immortal, and Lenny has decided he will take part in this experiment due to his intense fear of death and old age. At thirty-nine, Lenny is an old man, and he is taken with Eunice, a 24-year-old Korean-American who is visiting Rome after graduating college with a major in Images and a minor in Assertiveness.
Lenny falls head-over-heels for the cold, fickle Eunice, who thinks Lenny is a gross, old nerd who doesn’t know how to brush his teeth correctly. What should have been a one-night stand turns into a relationship when Eunice reaches out to Lenny in Manhattan after they both return to their economically and culturally stunted version of the United States. Eunice is afraid to return home to her abusive father and enabler mother, but wants to be close to home to protect her mother and sister from her dad’s drunken wrath. Lenny welcomes her into his small apartment with open arms, and together they watch the nation fall under the weight of its poor credit and puppet government. Will they offer each other solace and find love in a hopeless place?
Of course not.
Did you see the title of the book?
Everything about the United States in this book is super sad. The romance is super sad. Most of the other relationships are super sad. Society has devolved to a level where sexuality and status reign supreme. Sound familiar? Probably, because we as a society already place such value in sex and status, but this book takes it to a sadly believable extreme. Lenny is considered weird because he still reads books. In this near future dystopian U.S., Images and Media are how people get all of their information. Hyper-sexuality is preened from childhood; it’s normal to watch porn in kindergarten. The hottest jeans are transparent and the most popular bra looks more like Swiss cheese than an actual supportive garment. People are walking Facebook (in this universe, “GlobalTeen”) profiles because they are always connected to their äppäräti (an iPhone of the future). You can easily access the health and income stats as well as Images and Videos of the most personal moments of the people around you via your äppärät. You are able to rate their Sustainabilit¥, Personality, and…”Eff”ability, shall we say. Credit Poles stationed across the city flash your credit score to everyone around you when you walk by the Poles. There is no privacy. Scrutiny is constant.
I could easily imagine a future where this is the norm because we already seem halfway there. Lenny’s friend Noah and Noah’s girlfriend Amy stream nearly every moment of their lives, fitting in product placements and appealing to the masses by discussing the current unrest in the nation. They discuss the Chinese government’s threat to pull financial assistance to the U.S., LNWIs (Low Net Worth Individuals) being ready to revolt and setting up camp in Central Park, and talking about how fat Amy is. This sounds more than a bit like many YouTube channels. It’s a vapid, pretentious, and superficial world where people are prized for their youth and attractiveness, where it’s easy to ignore civilization crumbling around you because you’re too busy trying to impress others. There was a current of infantilization running through society. Everyone uses “GlobalTeens” to communicate. Adults frequently use cutesy animal nicknames for each other (“Precious Panda”, “Grizzly”). Lenny’s 70-year-old boss is called “Joshie.” Perhaps the obsession with image and the lack of literacy has left humanity in a permanently pubescent frame of mind.
Lenny and Eunice’s relationship wasn’t appealing because it was obviously a crappy relationship. Lenny has a type, and his type is young Asian women. At one point, he mentions how his attraction to her borders on the paternalistic, which is right up Eunice’s alley as she has daddy issues up the wazoo. They both fit into each other’s fetishes. Lenny wants a young girl to make him feel young and distract him from his obsession with death. Eunice wants an older man who she can “fix.” That’s where the attraction ends. Eunice’s volatile, hot-and-cold moods toss Lenny back and forth. Lenny’s age, messy apartment, and collection of smelly books disgust Eunice. All that’s keeping them together is their intense fear of the increasingly militaristic conditions heralding the fall of the American nation.
Most of the political and economic intricacies establishing the setting of the story were dry to me because politics and economics are topics that have never interested me. We’re never explicitly told all the details surrounding the downfall of America and the subsequent rise of China and Norway. It’s suggested that it began due to a U.S. invasion of Venezuela, and I don’t remember finding out why the U.S. was invading Venezuela in the first place. I took copious notes on all the intricacies of the current government and its alliances, but in the end, the details of this downtrodden nation weren’t important as long as you realize crap was going down, and none of it was good. Envisioning America as a unicameral fascist state where being friendly with the wrong person or speaking out against the government puts you in imminent danger paid off three-quarters of the way through the book as the world crumbles around Eunice and Lenny.
The satirical world of Lenny and Eunice was a sharp and biting commentary on society’s infatuation with technology and ourselves (or ourselfies, if you will). It’s not difficult to imagine winding up in a hyper-sexual, hyper-materialistic, hyper-self-involved society when you take into account popular culture. My Facebook “Trending” news stories feed is frequently 99% superficial crap. Right now one of the news stories is “Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian Show Off Abs in Photoshoot.” Two stories down is “Kris Jenner Thinks Some of Her Daughters’ Photoshoots Are Cringeworthy.” We as a society have allowed trivial crap like this to be breaking news. We’ve given in to the drivel promoting wealth and tiny waists over having any kind of substance to your personality. The book reads as a warning of what our society could become if we keep promoting and glorifying the petty and the selfish. Eunice and Lenny’s crappy, needy relationship is something most of us probably experience, except our crappy, needy relationship is with social media. We’re doomed to remain big babies if we keep promoting the infantile over the complex.
Rating: 4 out of 5 bottles of reservatrol
2016 POPSUGAR Reading Challenge Category: A Romance Set in the Future, A Satirical Book