Super Sad True Love Story

August 3, 2011

(Scott, Thanks for loaning me this book. I agree with you, it is brilliant and disturbing. I have to part ways with you on the ending, however. I liked it.)

“Dearest Diary, Today I’ve made a major decision: I am never going to die.” This absurd promise is the opening line for Gary Shteyngarts latest book. The speaker and protagonist, Lenny Abramov aka Rhesus Monkey, is just old enough to remember the world we currently live in, a world in which the USA was the wealthy land of opportunity, the destination of immigrants eager to improve their lot in the world, a land where people still owned and read books, and a land that was busily sowing the seeds for future disasters: economic, political, social, cultural, and maybe even moral.

But Lenny isn’t overly concerned with our country’s problems because he has a problem of his own. Several problems, actually. He’s in love with a Korean-American anorexic, Eunice Park (not to worry, all young women are anorexic in the future), who is 20 years his junior and thoroughly repelled by Lenny’s hairy arms, sweaty forehead, odor, and general appearance. He’s lost his job at the Post-Human Services division of the Staatling-Wapachung Corporation, making it highly unlikely that he will ever become the kind of High Net Worth Individual that can afford dechronification aka immortality. He’s a social outcast in a world where your up-to-the-minute emotional-physical-social-financial characteristics are constantly monitored, ranked, and shared with the general public. And he collects and reads books.

A couple of passages pretty much tell everything about Lenny’s anxiety-ridden life:

[on his initial return to the office after an extended trip to Italy] “With one or two exceptions, I haven’t made any work-time buddies at Post-Human Services since I turned thirty. It’s not easy being friends with some twenty-two-year-old who cries over his fasting blood-glucose level or sends out a GroupTeen with his adrenal-stress index and a smiley face. When the graffito in the bathroom reads “Lenny Abramov’s insulin levels are whack,” there is a certain undeniable element of one-upmanship, which, in turn, raises the cortisol levels associated with stress and encourages cellular breakdown. Still, when I walked through the door I expected to recognize someone.”

[and then reporting on his progress at work one week later] “I’ve spent the week hanging out at the Eternity Lounge, fiddling with my pebbly new äppärät 7.5 with RateMe Plus technology, which I now proudly wear pendant-style around my neck, getting endless updates on our country’s battle with solvency from CrisisNet while downloading all my fears and hopes in front of my young nemeses in the Eternity Lounge, talking about how my parents’ love for me ran too hot and too cold, and how I want and need Eunice Park even though she’s so much prettier than I deserve – basically, trying to show these open-source younguns just how much data an old “intro” geezer like me is willing to share. So far I’m getting shouts of “gross” and “sick” and “TIMATOV,” which I’ve learned means Think I’m About to Openly Vomit, but I also found out that Darryl, the guy with the SUK DIK bodysuit and the red bandana, has been posting nice things about me on his GlobalTeens stream called “101 People We Need to Feel Sorry For.”

Move over iPhones, Facebook and reality TV.  Move over debt ceiling negotiations. Folks in the future will have better things to do. They will wear äppäräts and spend every moment open-sourcing and streaming their every fart. As Lenny says, “I’m learning to worship my new äppärät’s screen, the colorful pulsating mosaic of it, the fact that it knows every last stinking detail about the world, whereas my books only know the minds of their authors.”

Terri Gross interviews Gary Shteyngart on Fresh Air, Aug 2, 2010

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