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Super Sad True Love Story

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The author of two critically acclaimed novels, The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan, Gary Shteyngart has risen to the top of the fiction world. Now, in his hilarious and heartfelt new novel, he envisions a deliciously dark tale of America’s dysfunctional coming years—and the timeless and tender feelings that just might bring us back from the brink.

In a very near future—oh, let’s say next Tuesday—a functionally illiterate America is about to collapse. But don’t that tell that to poor Lenny Abramov, the thirty-nine-year-old son of an angry Russian immigrant janitor, proud author of what may well be the world’s last diary, and less-proud owner of a bald spot shaped like the great state of Ohio. Despite his job at an outfit called Post-Human Services, which attempts to provide immortality for its super-rich clientele, death is clearly stalking this cholesterol-rich morsel of a man. And why shouldn’t it? Lenny’s from a different century—he totally loves books (or “printed, bound media artifacts,” as they’re now known), even though most of his peers find them smelly and annoying. But even more than books, Lenny loves Eunice Park, an impossibly cute and impossibly cruel twenty-four-year-old Korean American woman who just graduated from Elderbird College with a major in Images and a minor in Assertiveness.

After meeting Lenny on an extended Roman holiday, blistering Eunice puts that Assertiveness minor to work, teaching our “ancient dork” effective new ways to brush his teeth and making him buy a cottony nonflammable wardrobe. But America proves less flame-resistant than Lenny’s new threads. The country is crushed by a credit crisis, riots break out in New York’s Central Park, the city’s streets are lined with National Guard tanks on every corner, the dollar is so over, and our patient Chinese creditors may just be ready to foreclose on the whole mess. Undeterred, Lenny vows to love both Eunice and his homeland. He’s going to convince his fickle new love that in a time without standards or stability, in a world where single people can determine a dating prospect’s “hotness” and “sustainability” with the click of a button, in a society where the privileged may live forever but the unfortunate will die all too soon, there is still value in being a real human being.

Wildly funny, rich, and humane, Super Sad True Love Story is a knockout novel by a young master, a book in which falling in love just may redeem a planet falling apart.

331 pages, Hardcover

First published July 6, 2010

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About the author

Gary Shteyngart is an American writer born in Leningrad, USSR (he alternately calls it "St. Leningrad" or "St. Leninsburg"). Much of his work is satirical and relies on the invention of elaborately fictitious yet somehow familiar places and times.

His first novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002), received the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction and the National Jewish Book Award.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,826 reviews
Profile Image for David.
161 reviews1,452 followers
May 14, 2010
Gary Shteyngart has failed me. True, he probably wasn't aware that he had a responsibility to me, personally, but (in most cultures) ignorance of the law is seldom sufficient cause to dismiss the crime.

Shteyngart's crime is that he has written what appears to be an awful book. (I say 'what appears to be' because I didn't have the heart to finish it.*) Yes, as you well know, countless other writers have committed the same crime -- some even more gruesomely -- but most of these capital offenses weren't preceded by a debut novel of great promise (The Russian Debutante's Handbook: very amusing at times and suggestive of a kernel of greatness) and a sophomore novel named among the best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review (Absurdistan: a technically improved four-star novel).

Super Sad True Love Story began with two or three pages of hyperneurotic and death-obsessed musings that gave me a literary boner. TMI maybe, but my aesthetic compass was pointing due north from the get-go. I thought to myself right then, 'This is going to be a truly Great Book.' Well, go ahead and file away that declaration with the marketing plan of Edsel, the proliferation of Esperanto, the acceptance of the metric system in America, the electoral revolution of Ross Perot, the circulation of the Susan B. Anthony dollar, and the bankrolling of Cimino's Heaven's Gate.

What followed the initial excitement was a profound disappointment at this obvious, uninsightful, and -- worst of all -- unfunny satire. Shteyngart clearly used George W. Bush-era America as a jumping off point to imagine a vague dystopia** in which the U.S. seems to be transitioning to a fully fascist state dominated by elaborate systems of monitoring and surveillance and an unwieldy Kafkaesque bureaucracy (yes, Kafkaesque -- it's always super-duper Kafkaesque in the future, ain't it?). On top of this bleak political outlook, Shteyngart feeds off the Great Recession by going out on a limb and predicting the inevitable: that the U.S. will eventually be eclipsed economically by Asian countries, China in particular, of course. (I don't think there are many people who seriously doubt this, are there? It's only a matter of how long it will take that keeps people disagreeing.) And connecting all of the dots, Shteyngart attempts to lampoon the hyperactivity of internet culture as well -- serving up a Facebook parody that is so enragingly tepid that it conjures up images of an ill-starred archer who is surrounded by nothing but targets but somehow manages to miss the mark. By never even releasing the bow.

Shteyngart supplies his dystopia with precious, infuriatingly 'cute' alternate-world details: for instance, Manhattan has become the socioeconomic Siberia of New York City, while Staten Island is the hip, newly-gentrified borough. (Isn't that funny? Uh, not really. It's the kind of humor that's so obvious that it doesn't even need to be written down.) Meanwhile, St. Petersburg (Russia) (nee Leningrad, nee St. Petersburg) is now... you got it... Putingrad. Please gather your sides before they split.

Within this milieu, Shteyngart situates a love story between a middle-aged, ugly, loser schlub and a young Asian-American girl. As far as I read into the book, this romance did little to humanize the strangely abstract, undeveloped, and unreal surroundings in which they found themselves.

* Of course, it's possible that the latter section of the novel redeems the earlier section, but I'm skeptical. The equations that we readers regularly calculate (as to a novel's readability, enjoyment factor, intellectual gratification, and so on) produced only the reminder that life was too short (or this book too long, depending upon your perspective) to bother with it.

** I refer to Shteyngart's dystopia as 'vague' because it feels sketchy and not-well-thought-out. You (meaning I) never really buy it as a coherent reality within the parameters of the novel. It's seems more like a provisional world existing only to nudge characters into action and thought and threatening to evaporate any moment into insubstantiality.
Profile Image for Kemper.
1,390 reviews6,823 followers
January 5, 2011
Oh, did I read this book at the exact wrong time of my life.

It's about a thirty-nine year old guy who is quickly losing what small traces of cool he ever had to middle-age as he is relentlessly mocked by a youth culture that finds him old, disgusting and out of touch.

I’m forty, very nearly forty-one. I don‘t like Twitter. I don’t know who half the celebrities referenced in the news are any more. (What the hell is a Snooki??) I got a painful case of bursitis seconds after turning forty that lasted most of the year. And at Christmas, my twelve year old niece was teaching me how to play Farkle. (With real dice and a pen & paper. Like in olden times!) While she was effortlessly playing, talking to me, holding two other conversations, keeping score and texting every fifteen seconds, I could barely add up my own rolls and had to refocus every time someone said something to me. An hour of that, and I felt like I should just wander outside and lay down in the snow to die so I wouldn’t take up precious resources that she’ll need.

So I had to grit my teeth a lot while reading.

It’s set in the near future where the current internetization of our personal lives has been turned up to 11. Everyone uses a device called an apparat (the ultimate smart phone) to broadcast all their personal info, and everyone is constantly rating everyone else on everything from personality to sex appeal. There's no concept of personal privacy when your credit rating and your sexual history (which most people film) is available to everyone. In a society where image is everything, aging or being unattractive are considered sins.

Unfortunately, for Lenny Abramov, he’s thirty-nine, ugly, depressive and so terrified of death that he’s been saving constantly for expensive anti-aging treatments from the company he works for. Just before returning from an extended work trip in Italy, he meets the much younger and very pretty Eunice Park, a Korean-American with a lot of issues with her parents.

Lenny falls hard for Eunice and talks her into coming to see him in New York. Despite Lenny being a dork who still reads smelly old paper books and Eunice being a trendy shopaholic with low self-esteem, the two find a connection and begin a relationship. But around them the American economy based on spending is circling the drain and political tensions are running high as the entire country seems on the verge of collapse even as everyone still tries to look good and keep their personal ratings up.

I really liked this premise of a technologically based youth culture run amok as the entire house of cards is about to collapse, and I found the romance between Lenny and Eunice to be (as advertised) a super sad true love story.

But in addition to reminding me constantly of how old and out of touch I am, Shteyngart, pulls a good trick here that makes me feel like an asshole just for typing this. Because how do you rate a book on the internet when that book mocks a culture that feels the need to obsessively rate everything via digital devices?

To hell with it. Three stars. It should probably be a four star read, but I’m deducting a star for screwing with my head and bumming me out.
Profile Image for Will Byrnes.
1,296 reviews120k followers
November 6, 2021
Updated August 2, 2013 - see cool extra links at bottom

By reading this review you are denying its existence and implying your agreement with its contents.

Gary Shteyngart takes a peek twenty minutes into the future. No shades required. His alter-ego, Lenny Abramov, is a 39-year-old slacker busily wasting his employer’s time and money attempting (or not) to sell to rich Europeans a life-lengthening process that is two parts nanotechnology and three parts bullshit. While hardly at it in Rome, he meets the young, beautiful Korean-American, Eunice. This is the love story, the McGuffin for our tale.

Good dystopian sci-fi/satire takes extant conditions, processes, and directions and asks, “What if this goes on?” Shtetygart's collects many of the awful things about contemporary society and projects them forward, arriving at a dark and occasionally funny portrait of near-future America as a failed state. There are some ha-ha moments here, but, for me at least, it was not that sort of funny. Sadly, there are plenty of projections that seem far, far too credible. Admittedly, much that is addressed is fairly low hanging fruit. But just because it is easy to reach does not mean that it is not at least a little bit yummy. Off to the orchard.

New York as a theme park for the global well-to-do does not seem so far from reality. Have you checked out what it costs to actually live in Manhattan, or Brownstone Brooklyn? Been there, done that, and it can take your breath (and all available income and capital) away. Don't have to stretch at all, maybe lean over and pluck a few blackberries from a prickly bush.

When the big banker from China is scheduled to visit NYC, the unsightly are driven from view. Scooping up of those left behind by economic "development" in Beijing and hustling them out of sight in order to present a scrubbed image to the world was SOP in the PRC when the Olympics was coming to town. A nifty...well...ok, an obvious twist to reverse those roles here. That the homeless are shunted into special areas is hardly a reach, and that many are made homeless by voracious and sociopathic real estate developers is nothing less than current reality, and of course we have even coarser examples from 20th century of underclasses being gathered into confined spaces for easier "handling." It is not news or futuristic that only the wealthy are considered "desirable." Duh-uh. Maybe that fruit was already on the ground, with buzzing yellowjackets establishing a perimeter.

People are so devoted to texting and communication by technology that actual person-to-person conversation has been relegated to a sub-category, "verballing." In fact, the entire novel is comprised of Lenny’s diary entries, and e-mails sent and received by Eunice. I have two teenage daughters. They are still capable of speech, I think. But for how long, I would not predict. Grab that brown-spotted, crumbling pear off that branch before you walk into it and make sauce.

Everyone (who is anyone) here totes a sort of iPad/iPhone/blackberry (an iChain?), called an äppärät, that keeps them constantly in touch. Of course it also gathers and disperses terabytes of data about the user and everyone else, creating a constant stream of medical, financial, personal and ultimately rankable data. People are actually scored on their Credit Rating and sexual attractiveness, here designated as "F_ckability." This is not a world in which I would want to live. Hey, wait a minute... I would commend to your attention some articles, noted at the bottom of this review, that address privacy in the world today and upcoming. This hardly qualifies as fruit at all, maybe a fruit rollup. I was disappointed that Shteyngart did not do more with his PDA projection. It hardly seemed more than a version up from today.

There is no real news any more. Those with the energy produce individual webcasts, as if all international media had become fragmented episodes of Wayne's World. Are we actually projecting ahead here? Have you watched Fox or CNN lately? Uh, oh, that apple you just chomped down on has…well…had a resident.

What happens when China suddenly decides to stop buying our bonds? In Shteyngart's world, economic collapse for the USA. China may cut back, (see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/04/bus...) but once they completely stop I imagine we polish and start rattling our considerable supply of nuclear tipped sabers. But Shteyngart's vision may be likelier, a USA carved up by corporations like a Benihana (yes, yes, I know, Japanese, not Chinese, sheesh!) entree. His projected apocalypse is of our own making, a nation unwilling to grow up and accept responsibility for our own actions and inactions. See tax cuts for the rich, expensive wars of choice and then decrying the resulting deficit to make your head spin for this exercise. He sees a society consumed with ephemera and egotism to the exclusion of actual production. We do lead the world in self-esteem. In this world, the USA no longer produces anything, and almost all work is divided into Retail, Media, and Credit. A sub-class, an increasing percentage of the labor pool, is made up of five-yuan (an hour) dregs. No need for projection there. [The reviewer waves to his readers from somewhere way, way down below.] Duck, as a group of pickers, thinking you are trying to take their jobs, starts forming a phalanx and begins to advance.

But there has to be a limit. Staten Island as a cool place? Really? Who could possibly believe that? I suppose anything is possible. As a Bronx native whose birthplace, a hop, skip and a Saturday Night Special ricochet from the South Bronx, has been a crater for several decades, it is mind-rattling for me that parts of what was once referred to as Fort Apache, now SoBo, are becoming habitable, even attractive again. For real? But Staten Island? No sir, you go too far.

There are more, (they are legion) but we must move on, so flee the orchard, trying not to yield up too much gas.

Yet, somehow, even though so many of the short-term projections were fairly modest, and although there are plenty of holes one could poke in Shteyngart’s image of a near-term future, I found that it worked for me. Putting the elements together creates a feel for what the America (in particular the New York) of tomorrow might look like. It felt altogether too real for comfort.

My first reaction to the love story was that it was somewhat goofy, but every time I wondered about the behavior of both parties I found myself thinking that what they did made sense. I liked also that he offered an insightful comparison of two immigrant cultures, Russian- Jewish and Korean.

I enjoyed the fun he had tossing in references to dystopian novels of yore. 1984 is noted specifically. There is a band named Alphaville. I am sure there are many I missed. I also appreciated that he did a turn with two of my all time favorite books, The Quiet American and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. For the former, Lenny serves as Thomas Fowler, with Eunice in the role of Phuong, and Lenny’s rejuvenated boss in the role of Alden Pyle. There are familiar warnings from connected people about avoiding places that then experience severe unpleasantness. Other plot points mirror Greene’s, but you get the idea. Things fall apart, and there are always dark forces encouraging chaos, seeking to profit in the ensuing confusion.

Forget the dollar. It’s a symptom. This country makes nothing. Our assets are worthless. The northern Europeans are figuring out how to decouple from our economy, and once the Asians turn off the cash spigot we’re through. And, you know what? This is all going to be great for Post-Human Services! Fear of the Dark Ages, that totally raises our profile. (p 66)

Likewise, Lenny tries to find some meaning to his life, trying to make it bearable; Eunice finds some satisfaction (and a hunky guy) in the resistance (Sleeper?). Shteyngart tosses in enough body contact to give us a taste of the philandering Kundera cast, and locates his story in the middle of a society in the midst of Prague-like change.

For his socio-political projections, Shteyngart has had to run full tilt. In an interview, he said that when he began writing the book in 2006 he imagined crazy things like the collapse of the banking system, then had to rework everything to keep ahead of the changes. Now appearing in a screen inside my head: Indiana Jones fleeing a giant boulder. I share his dark vision of a post-national future, one in which divisions are not so much between Democrats and Republicans as they are between a small group of haves, namely corporations and those in positions of power within them, and the rest of us. Just check most congressional voting records for confirmation. And if that does not do the trick, check out how our Supreme Court leans. If you are not afraid of our nation becoming of, by and for the corporation you have not been paying attention. See the Citizens United decision. There is no law, only power, and in Shteyngart’s projected world, ordinary citizens are complicit in their declining situations, more than happy to to be little more than consumers and products themselves. Any world in which it is considered strange to be reading actual books is one that deserves to be carved up and bought by a Norwegian hedge fund. Maybe the projections in Shteyngart’s theater may give some of us enough of a heads up as to what lies ahead that we might try changing course. That alone makes it a book worth reading.

============================EXTRA STUFF

Article on privacy and links to many other relevant items

NY Times - on privacy

Pew Research Center report on Millennials

Linker extraordinaire and GR friend Jan Rice passed on the intel that Shteyngart had a wonderful article in August 5, 2013 New Yorker magazine, on using Google Glass. It is way fun.

In addition there is an associated video or two on the New Yorker site.

And more on Gary's FB page

8/26/13 - I came across this article in yesterday's NY Times, re a city, Columbia, South Carolina, treating their poverty-stricken the way the fictional city of New York does on Shteyngart's novel - South Carolina City Takes Steps to Evict Homeless From Downtown

You can find another, and much more pointed take at MSN Money, Columbia, SC, to exile its homeless

June 2017 - Smithsonian Magazine - Shteyngart's fun article on the invasion of robotics and AI into life in Seoul - The Bots

November 2021 - Shteyngart posted a Notes & Highlights piece on GR. It offers some insight into his writing.

Profile Image for Casey.
36 reviews
March 10, 2017
03/10/17 - Seven years later, my review is apparently still very popular. Take THAT, people who thought they left their marks via important, world-changing accomplishments!

Re: my feelings on his portrayal of immigrants and how they write - I'm descended from a million generations of hill folk white people who have been in America for over 300 years, and my closest immigrant experience relates to my Irish grandparents who died before I was born and spoke English. I know nothing about how immigrant parents communicate, and according to many commenters, he was spot-on with his portrayal. It still feels gross to me for this white dude to detail this in his book, though.

UPDATE: 1/2/11 - Random troll reminded me I had never done a full review of this book.

I had so many problems with this book I have trouble narrowing it down into something concise. The main character, Lenny Abraham, is just awful. Kind of sort of so is Gary Shteyngart. (Surprise! They're both children of Russian immigrants and I'd bet money that Gary lives in Manhattan. And by the end of the novel, both are published authors!) The book presents an America of the not-too-distant-future via what Shteyngart must think is oh so clever satire - women wear OnionSkin jeans (sheer pants worn without underwear) and shop at AssLuxury and JuicyPussy; no one reads actual books because they "smell." Everyone carries around tiny mobile devices called Apparats (there are some umlauts in there but I just don't give a fuck), which broadcast all your most intimate details while also acting as your blackberry/videophone/deusexmachina. As a sci-fi fan, the thing that bothered me most about Apparats was a complete lack of explanation as to how they worked. They're described as being the size of a necklace pendant. How is anyone reading off of that?

And maybe due to my wrong approach or wrong focus, I just didn't "get" it. But what is there to get? Shteyngart mocks Fox News and corporate oligarchy. Every time young Eunice Park emails her Korean mother, Mrs. Park responds in such a poorly-worded manner, I felt racist just reading it (seriously Gary, the woman's lived in America for 20 years. There is no reason for every email of hers to read like a shitty 80's comedian bit - YOU BIN HEAH FOW OWAS!) Every time Lenny points out a misspelled sign to his dear readers, it's one that's been written by a group that is surely ESL. The book is broken up between 2 points of view - Lenny's journal entries and Eunice's emails/chats. Eunice is shallow and manipulative and supremely fucked up in regards to relationships, and if the entire book were from her perspective, I still would've had an awful time getting through it. But Lenny was just so repulsive, I found myself anticipating her chapters as a breath of fresh air.

But I digress. In short: awful book I only finished because I paid for it. I've read a lot of books, and I've read a lot of ACTUAL super sad true love stories. This was just super, sad, and stupid.


According to my Kindle, I'm 20% into this book. With every page turn, I keep summoning my inner Dworkin and repeating, mantra-like, "This book was definitely written by a white male."
Profile Image for Ryan.
990 reviews
December 11, 2010
I don't think I've ever been so happy to finish a book.

It's not that Super Sad True Love Story is a bad or boring book. It's quite intelligent and it's often funny (perhaps 'witty' would be a better adjective for a New York Times darling like Shteyngart). However, this book is just super sad. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if the working title was "super, super, sad story."

Shteyngart has created a "dystopian" America, but readers won't have to try very hard to find the targets of this satire. Social networking is out of control and people spend all their time texting, chatting, and online shopping. Most people are illiterate, and the only library we see is actually sprayed with pinesol to get rid of the smell.

Thankfully, smart phones are better than ever at collecting and broadcasting personal data. Now, they can even be used to rate the attractiveness and personality of the people around you. They monitor your pulse and social networking history to produce their ratings.

Unfortunately, Lenny Abramov always scores low in attractiveness and personality, though his credit is impressive.

Nearly 40, Lenny is a salesman for a longevity company that markets its program to healthy, high net worth individuals (HNWIs). Yes, Lenny has good credit, but it's becoming increasingly unlikely that he will live forever. Sadly, his Ohio-shaped bald spot is only getting bigger.

However, when Lenny meets a 24 year-old Korean girl, Eunice Park, while in Rome, he finds a new lease on life. Eunice is young, beautiful, and she comes from an abusive family. Lenny doesn't need his smart phone to tell him that Eunice is just the type of girl to receive his unconditional love.

Unfortunately, Eunice is not a very warm person and although she admits to herself and her friends that she loves Lenny, she is living in a difficult world. America is now well beyond "decline." Its economy in shambles and its debt out of control, the country only survives by the grace of the Chinese and their credit. Lenny's strategies to succeed in this economy? Associate with an attractive Korean girl and make your boss feel protective about you.

In the New York that Shteyngart describes, there is no longer room for any class but the ultra rich. And there may not be room for a love story either, no matter how super sad it may be.

Super Sad True Love Story does contain moments of humor, but it's quite a downer. Considering that all of the people in this story are ridiculed for their obsessions with cheating death and positive thinking, I couldn't help feeling guilty by how squeamish I felt while reading this novel.

But I must admit that it succeeded in making me feel super sad.
37 reviews
July 22, 2011
My favorite quote was "In short I felt paternal and aroused, which is not a good combination."
I wish I could meet Gary Shteyngart just to tell him to stay the fuck away from my daughter.

Short version: it's unrelatable. Don't read it.

I found this book through a blog post where the author used quotes from SSTLS to describe how he felt he was less and less creative every year since graduating college, a feeling with which I could sympathize, but the main character and story are unrelatable. There are a few sentences good enough to share, but most of the writing is too boring for the story to not have a point.

Basically, Lenny, a 39 year old salesman for an immortality laboratory, becomes obsessed with Eunice, a 24 year old Korean teen, while on a business trip. When she moves back to the states she and Lenny become roommates where they fight and fuck and the US's economy falls apart. Really it's the story of a self absorbed old man who can't identify with anyone.

Eunice plays the illiterate, capricious (falling in love with anyone she meets), and under educated (she majored in Assertiveness at college) consumer. She is the critique of her generation, but none of the critiques work with the real world.

Broken Social Critiques:
Social norms change. In the 60's we had super miniskirts and in Lenny's future we'll have see through jeans, nipple-less bras, and Total Surrender panties. If teenagers are dressed too scantily, maybe you should stop being a creeper and not check out teenagers. Even Eunice, growing up in a culture that casually watches porn, doesn't wear the clothes to entice men. She buys it for the label. Wealth is the new porn.

Lenny laments that no one reads and that young people think books smell (no Kindles in the future?), but at the end of the book, Lenny's diaries are published and become popular enough to be made into a movie twice. People read, but I'm guessing these aren't the women Lenny is trying to seduce in a bar. His knowledge of literature lacks substance. Lenny name checks his favorite Russian authors but can't explain the plot to The Unbearable Lightness of Being to Eunice. People who read without understanding are just as dangerous as people who do not read.
Despite everyone complaining about no one reading anymore Gary Shteyngart still sells enough books to afford living in New York City.

Lanny's coworkers mock him for being old, but it's entirely possible they're rightfully jealous and angry that he spent a year in Italy on the company's dime without generating any new revenue. It's never mentioned how hard Lenny's coworkers work, only how rude they are to him in the break room. I don't know what it's like in Manhattan, but it is easy to be politely sociable with anyone in a company, even the driven asshole. If you encounter the same problem with every person you meet/work with, then the problem is likely you.

I hate how lazy Lenny is, worrying about his fuckability/personality score in a bar but not buying new clothes until forced to by Eunice. He is obsessed with immortality, but doesn't eat healthy food or exercise. His hopes are that one day he'll be able to purchase some of the immortality treatments his company sells. Like every entitled 20-something of whom Gary is supposed to be critical, Lenny expects rewards (immortality) to be thrust upon him instead of working to earn them.

Lenny is completely unable to relate to another human being. He dates, he fucks, and he has a good group of friends, but he's still lonely. Lenny will always be lonely as long as he's obsessed with youth and status (or his lack of status) instead of trying to connect with people. If you're seeing the same patterns with different people, the only constant is you.

The dystopia aspect falls apart when several of your complaints are pretty cool. I want an iphone app that rates women by attractiveness and tells me which bar to find the book nerd of my dreams.

Blargh, what a long, boring complaint about our youth. It is absolutely terrifying that Gary Shteyngart is a teacher at Columbia. His students should be warned.
Profile Image for Fabian.
947 reviews1,563 followers
September 14, 2020
wow WoW WOW!!

Am mightily impressed with this modern classic. Finally, someone with the guts to paint our beloved NYC in a perpetually negative, apocalyptic light. (Is Gary Shteyngart the only one to do this, um, ever?)

Romance in war in an alternative reality of modern(ish) day America--so hard to pull off and yet it is done masterfully. Astute prose, the PERFECT details that are needed in a posh novel of the 2010's, leaves the sophisticated reader breathless, more--fully flabbergasted. You cannot quit reading this, the last 120 pages or so must be read in one eye-straining sitting. I would venture to say that it is absolutely perfect in its messiness, in its satirical orchestrations--flawless. Where in the hell is this book's Pulitzer? Seriously, this is one flat-out masterpiece! A new favorite.

Cant wait to reread this in a decade or so!
Profile Image for Kelly (and the Book Boar).
2,447 reviews7,542 followers
February 28, 2015
Find all of my reviews at: http://52bookminimum.blogspot.com/

Holy shitsnacks! What a snoozefest!

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Super Sad True Love Story is not a book I’d normally choose to read, but since I needed a final selection in order to complete my library’s Winter Reading Challenge I picked it up. Dear Library Winter Reading Challenge: I should cut you!


I’m fairly certain I’ll be accused of being too stupid to understand all of the “hilarious political satire” contained in this novel, so here’s a "pitcherbook" confirming I’m an idiot and explaining why I hated it.

Super Sad True Love Story is a book about how America is destined to go in the toilet in the next week or so.

Although Americans stood up and said they were going to make a difference . . .

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Instead, we kept being assholes who worshipped people like this . .

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Wasting all of our money on awesome leisure suits and Mr. Rogers’ sweaters . . .

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Spending much of our free time socializing with our BFFs . . .

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And dreaming of being lucky enough to get a job in RETAIL . . .

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While making sure to simultaneously remain attached our äppärätti . . .

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Where the new rage was connecting via Globalteen, a program that made “verballing” almost a thing of the past . . .

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We also spent a lot of time worrying about our carb intake . . .

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In order to make sure we would still look supes hot in the latest trend . . .

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However, we also made sure to follow Fox News for current events . . .

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Like how America is AWESOME and definitely not going to be taken over by another country anytime soon . . .

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Yeah, that didn’t end up working out so well. My enjoyment of this story obviously didn’t work out so well either. But hey, as long as there's still a chance old dudes can bump uglies with young chicks 'Murica will be A-Okay!!!

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Profile Image for Grace Tjan.
188 reviews505 followers
July 8, 2011
BookFiendUSA: I see that you’ve been reading Super Sad True Love Story. Cute title, big hype. What’s it about?

SandyBanks1971: It’s about this guy, Lenny Abramov, second-generation Russian Jewish-American, who is in his “very late thirties” and very bothered about it. He thinks that’s he’s a RAG who can’t get the girl anymore, and a failure in his job to get HNWIs to buy his company’s “life extension” programs.

BookFiendUSA: I know that HNWI is High Net Worth Individual --- but what the hell is a RAG?

SandyBanks1971: Rapidly Aging Geezer. It’s a texting abbreviation.

BookFiendUSA: But I’ve never heard of it. You’re just making it up.

SandyBanks1971: It’s from the book. That’s how young (and the not-so-young but cool) people speak in the future.

BookFiendUSA: In the future? So it’s a sci-fi?

SandyBanks1971: Not really, but it’s set in a dystopic near future, when the US is well on its way to becoming a sort of a third-world country, both economically and militarily. America is mired in an unwinnable war with Venezuela. The US$ is pegged to the Yuan and the “Chinese Central Banker” is coming to claim a sizable chunk of Manhattan for debt repayment.

BookFiendUSA: We have been stuck in Afghanistan/Iraq for years and we already owed a gazillion trillion US$ to China in T-Bonds and stuffs, so that’s pretty conceivable. What else is different about this near future?

SandyBanks1971: Well, for one thing, everyone is hooked to his/her “apparat”, a kind of a super I Phone that constantly streams too much data for anyone’s good. No one has any privacy because everything’s on the internet: your life history, net income (in Yuan-pegged dollars), BMI, LDL level, sexual preferences, etc. Everybody is a health nut who obsesses about the food that they eat. Wine is not wine --- it’s “resvestarol”. Beer are drunk not for their taste but for the triglycerides. People are judged solely on their credit and “fuckability” ratings, all of which are constantly beamed to the entire world through their apparati. Books, of the ink and paper variety, are shunned because they’re considered dirty and smelly. Trendy young women dress in transparent “Onionskin” jeans that put all their junks on display and shop at “AssLuxury” for overpriced nippleless bras. Oh, and America is ruled by the Bipartisan Party and the all-powerful, all-knowing ARA (American Restoration Authority).

BookFiendUSA: Sounds depressingly familiar.

SandyBanks1971: It’s DYSTOPIC. Who knows, if the guy gets it right, it might become a 21st century 1984 or something.

BookFiendUSA: Okay --- so what’s the story? Does it have some kind of a plot?

SandyBanks1971: It’s mostly about Lenny and his awkward romance with Eunice Park, a Korean-American girl. Eunice is 24, and her parents (stereotypically) want her to improve her LSAT scores so she can get into law school (some things NEVER change, even in dystopian futures). However, Eunice has other ideas and chooses to spend some time in Rome instead, where she meets Lenny. Eunice isn’t too keen on him at first, but she eventually sort of fell for him, male pattern baldness, monstrous Askhenazi proboscis (JBF!) and all. But it isn’t easy; Lenny is a cuddly/repulsive RAG and Eunice has plenty of baggage of her own too.

BookFiendUSA: JBF?

SandyBanks1971: Just Butt Fucking. It’s from the book.

BookFiendUSA: But does ANYTHING happen --- I mean besides the love story?

SandyBanks1971: The climax of the story involves the “Rupture” --- after which the US as we know it is basically gone. There is a bloody riot involving government troops and LNWIs…

BookFiendUSA: Lemme guess: Low Net Worth Individuals?

SandyBanks1971: Yup. The government falls and the country has to be parceled off to its various creditors: the Chinese, the Norwegians and the IMF. People lose their nest eggs overnight because they are in non-pegged US Dollars.

BookFiendUSA: A sort of an apocalypse.

SandyBanks1971: Actually, reading about it gives me a sort of a déjà vu feeling. In my neck of the woods, we’ve had something like that happening in 1998, during the Asian financial crisis. There was a bloody riot in which thousands of people, most of them poor, died. There were tanks on suburban streets, widespread looting, rape and arson. The government signed a humiliating bailout deal with the IMF, and soon after that it fell. The local currency plummeted against the US Dollars and there were massive bank rushes. People lost their jobs overnight. It was total chaos. What is dystopian future in this novel is recent history for us.

BookFiendUSA: Wow. I hope it won’t happen anytime soon here. But what do you think about the book? Do you like it?

SandyBanks1971: It’s not badly written and can be quite engrossing. It’s a satire, and some of it works, but it can be relentlessly over the top at times. Nothing that makes me ROFLAARP (Rolling on Floor Looking at Addictive Rodent Pornography), for sure. But also nothing that makes me TIMATOV (Think I’m About To Openly Vomit), either. I find Lenny sort of pathetic-repulsive, and Eunice kind of vapid. And their supposedly touching romance does nothing for me. Some of Lenny's obsessive ruminations about mortality is depressing (the guy is my age and he makes me think that I should spend my lunch hour pondering such things, instead of napping or writing reviews on GR). I’m glad that I’ve read it though, and probably would try Shteyngart's other books.
Profile Image for Dana.
37 reviews19 followers
September 23, 2010
This is speculative fiction that is completely on target when it comes to current feelings about the Internet, economics, politics AND youth culture. It’s like Shteyngart took Jaron Lanier’s “You Are Not a Gadget,” all your worst nightmares about the Tea Party, your yuppie friends who keep their faces buried in their iPhones at the bar, your recent revelation that Facebooking is the loneliest part of your day, and your strict immigrant parents, and wrote a love story.

The part that tickles me the most, and where I think Shteyngart cuts to the bone of cultural hubris, is that this is another nail in the coffin for the cyberpunk dream of the Internet as a tool of connection, creation, and subversion. It's a satirical (and yet it's satire in the way that 1984 was satire - in that you kind of suspect it could actually happen) vision of how "connectivity" tends toward surveillance and as such actually leads to rigidity and conformism, to increased government and corporate exploitation, and to profound isolation.

Add on top of all that (the cultural commentary, the laughs, the love) Shteyngart's literary feat of writing from the perspective and in the language of two different protagonists with two very different styles!

Can you tell I'm impressed?
Profile Image for Nicholas Montemarano.
Author 8 books66 followers
August 5, 2010
Here's my favorite passage from this novel:

"The elephant knows there is nothing after this life and very little in it... he who will eventually trample his way through bush and scrub to lie down and die where his mother once trembled at her haunches to give him life."

Wonderful, moving.

But now it's time to be real...

Let me preface my criticism with a cliche I believe to be mostly true: When you judge someone or something, you're really revealing something about yourself.

So, here goes: This novel was not for me. Man, was it not for me. Not my taste at all. The polar opposite of my own writing, and my own aesthetics as a reader.

Now, for the angry part...

I was duped, hoodwinked, seduced by the media saturation surrounding this novel, by the all-star blurbs, by the clever book trailer, and, most importantly, by a glowing Times review from Michiko Kakutani, who calls this novel "supersad" (it's not sad) and "superfunny" (it's not funny) and claims that Shteyngart writes "movingly" (this, in fact, is the novel's greatest lack: it's not moving at all).

I wanted to like this novel; I really did. I planned to teach it. But what a disappointment...

This novel is the latest example (and perhaps one of the most egregious) of a book that's just not very good, yet has been fed into a hype machine. Readers may buy this book; it may get reviewed widely and well; hell, it may even win a major literary award; but none of that will change the fact that it's just not a good novel.

It's satire, yes, but it's WAY too easy, and the events go WAY too far over the top. The greater problem is with the characters: they are caricatures, cartoons. Emotionally, they are absolutely unbelievable.

Normally, if I dislike a novel this much, I don't say so publicly - not my thing. But, given the hype this novel has received, I feel a kind of literary responsibility to say: I'm sorry, and nothing personal against Mr. Shteyngart, but this is simply not a good novel.
Profile Image for K.D. Absolutely.
1,820 reviews
August 2, 2011
My current best friend in the office is a half-Chinese lady. She, just like most Chinese in the Philippines, is proud of her Chinese blood. I cannot blame her. Chinese businessmen rule the economy of the country. Even the sitting president has Chinese blood in his veins. In short, pure Filipinos accept the fact that having to exist, or even to work for, with their fellow Filipinos with Chinese blood is a non-issue. In most cases, those Chinese-Filipinos are even better in mathematics and in running businesses. Filipinos have long history of friendship with America since Philippines were under American occupation for 30 years. 8 in every 10 Filipinos have some relatives or friends in the USA. Some economists say that China is the next USA maybe in the next 3 or more decades. For this to happen, the economy of the USA will continue its downfall and China will continue its gain. I have my mother and brother and his family in California. The company I currently work with has its home office in Ohio. Of course, I would like the US economy to recover. I am not an economist so I cannot tell whether the shift, if and when it happens, will be better for the Philippines overall. China is closer in terms of distance and in a way even looks, e.g., chinky eyes. Many Filipinos have found employment there like entertainers, English teachers, managers, software engineers or construction workers.

This book reminded me of that prediction. In this tragicomic dystopian novel Super Sad True Love Story, 39-y/o Russian-American Lenny Abramov falls in love with 24-y/o Korean-American Eunice Park. Lenny is poor while Eunice is rich. It's kind of a reversal of fortune as Shteyngart depicts this interesting situation in more ways than one, i.e., that without no money, in the book. Aside from that reversal, the novel also uses a lot of contrasts between the two: male vs female, old vs young, poor vs rich, literary addict vs non-reader, good old book vs e-book, long-term vs non-commitment, love vs lust, etc. Very unlikely pair giving a breath of fresh air to all the recent love stories that I've read.

Needless to say, that reversal of fortune is not the main reason why I found this book amazing. It is the first time I found a dystopian book superfunny (especially in its first half) yet supersad (towards the end). Shteyngart used two alternating narrators and forms: Lenny writing to his diary and Eunice in epistolary form communicating via Facebook-like site called GlobalTeens. The setting is suppose to be in the near-future and, because it is well-written, has been compared to other dystopian sci-fi literary gems. But unlike George Orwell's 1984, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World and Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, this book Super Sad True Love Story has no communist-scare undertone which is now passe. In fact, this, because of the predicted shift of power, is very current and rather than a sci-fi, can be more appropriately called as speculative fiction.

One very interesting gadget widely used in this novel that it is almost like a character in itself is called apparat (each of the letter a's has two dots on top of them but I still have to figure out how to put them here in Goodreads). It is like a mobile that is normally worn by attaching it to a necklace like a pendant. If it is turned on, it is connected to your database where everything can be accessed automatically by anybody near you. It has all your data including who you have slept or sleeping with, your history of purchases, lifestyle and it has even ratings for you fuckability, hotness, financial status, etc. Then the said machine can also automatically compute those information for all the people in a given location, e.g., people in the bar you are in, and rank those people accordingly, e.g., Top 10 Hot Males or Top 10 Fuckable Ladies. That's the part I laughed out loud several times not because I felt sorry for the 39-y/o poor Lenny for his low scores but because of the way Gary Shteyngart (born 1972) used him and Eunice to be the very unusual inter-racial bed partners and later lovers that I encountered in all my readings so far.

This is truly an unforgettable read. Well done, Shteyngart.
Profile Image for ScrappyMags.
597 reviews246 followers
July 8, 2021
This was darn near a 5 star for me, so I'll round it up and give it its due. I was hesitant about this book, based on reviews on here - how many times have I read NYTimes-praised books only to read them and think "wow, that sucked." This book WAS worth the hype and deserving of higher ratings. Biting wit and well-developed. The satire was rich and lovely - come on, a bar named Cervix? JuicyP&%%y clothing line? A$$luxury shopping? Too funny as the obvious references to the stupidity and absurdity of current American consumerism are rampant. But what hit a nerve with me is the big question of where our society is heading - the impersonal, the technologically deviant behavior (misspellings, little ability to communicate one-on-one in meaningful ways, etc). How many times have I been mad at someone who won't PUT DOWN THEIR DAMN CELL PHONE and just TALK! This book made me think - is this where we're heading in a few years? To a purely superficial, artificially intelligent, consumer-goods obsessed, credit-report focused society? Probably. And while there's the current trend of dystopian anti-charm at work here, it was done in a "holy-s&^T, that could really happen!" kind of way. I could picture this world that was drawn so clearly by Shteyngart and it scared me at the same time as .. it didn't shock me, which is why I'm still thinking about this book because it really SHOULD have shocked me, but that's sort of the point of the effectiveness of this book. It's a love-it or hate-it book. I despised our protagonist Lenny who was the anti-American hero (cries all the time, a total wuss), despised Eunice (who can love an 86-lb girl who thinks she is FAT?), but I loved the thought-provoking nature of this book. It left me with a WTF feeling, and damn it - thanks for making me think for once with my literature. Bravo
April 3, 2021

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DNF @ p.22

This came out when I was in my early 20s. I think I even got an ARC of it. Possibly this was during my "dystopian phase" where I could not get enough of the world going to shit. This is the way the world ends, folks. Not with a bang, but a whimper.

When I first read it, I remember liking it a lot and being SO surprised and outraged on this book's behalf that all the "haters" were slamming it in their reviews (as one does). But ten years later, I'm... siding more with the haters this time around, actually. The way the Asian love interest is sexualized is gross and the sweaty slacker lead feels like a panting Judd Apatow guy who tripped and fell headfirst into a stack of Charles Bukowski and Bret Easton Ellis novels.

I actually have read the whole book at one point and I did appreciate his 21st century take on BRAVE NEW WORLD, but this wasn't it.

1 star
Profile Image for Meg.
4 reviews4 followers
December 23, 2010
This book only gets a star because the fact that I like words coincides with the fact that it contained words.

It is a poorly imagined vision of the near future (one from which Shteyngart apparently already feels alienated, but not in an existential Orwellian way). Essentially, he just observes the virtual, consumer-driven culture we live in now and replaces the word Blackberry/iPhone/mobile with "äppärät" - which is also apparently Russian for "the machinery of state authority" (see what he did there? It's a metaphor).

He also tries his very best to critique our culture's waning interest in reading and obsession with the internet and porn. Yawn. Margaret Atwood did a much better job of incorporating this into her distopic future in Oryx and Crake. But in her version, pornography streamed seamlessly through a society no longer sex-obsessed (which would be the logical response to overexposure to sexual imagery). In Shteyngart's future sex is always awkwardly present - especially in the language he so eagerly tries to mimic.

He takes a satirical stab at the virtual speak of Gen-Y, missing completely, by making it oversexed and steeped in an outlandish hip-hop culture (imagine 40 year old men fist-pumping and calling each other "nee-gro"). He constantly drops in terms like 'hipster' and even attempts a tongue-in-cheek reference to someone putting on an "old Arcade Fire" tune. Dear Reader, I almost retched, and have had to delete all my Arcade Fire albums, knowing that somewhere, somehow Mr S. is listening.

You get the feeling that beneath it all, Mr Shteyngart is just a geeky 40 year old man, who feels a bit left out and wishes he was young. Or even just a little more popular.

All of this would be excusable, though, if only the writing itself wasn't so bad. Not just unfunny or unmoving. Bad. Hardly a page was turned on which I did not cringe. Take as your example:

"I coughed into my hand, a painful chill across my body, as if an iceberg had stabbed me in the anus."

Never ever, Mr Shteyngart. Your parents must be so proud. Imagine, their little Gary, a writer!

Profile Image for Glee.
628 reviews15 followers
April 16, 2012
Cannot finish. Super gross whiny execution of pretty good idea (observations of a society obsessed with illiterate twenty-somethings who can't put down their smart-phonish "apparats" long enough to make eye contact). Gross middle-aged guy pursuing 86 pound teenager and seems only to engage in oral sex with the kind of detail I can live without. At least for the first 100 pages or so. I quit. One of those truly weird experiences...every paragraph, every page so blisteringly achingly funny and observant, but hung together on truly repulsive characters and motivation [other than to live forever] scant or non-existent.

58 reviews
February 24, 2011
I'm distressed to even be writing a review on one of the many social networking sites that consume us now given the bleak future such activity is leading us towards. If you ask people to friend you or if you use text as a verb, you should skip this book. If you ponder which designer to wear or carry will make the best impression to others, skip this book. If you find "joy" in "communicating" via something you typed by thumb or via some shallow site like Facebook, then there probably just isn't any point in you reading this book.

Two of my favorite quotes from the book:

"And the looks on the faces of my countrymen—passive heads bent, arms at their trousers, everyone guilty of not being their best, of not earning their daily bread, the kind of docility I had never expected from Americans, even after so many years of our decline. Here was the tiredness of failure imposed on a country that believed only in its opposite. Here was the end product of our deep moral exhaustion."

"What if the violence was actually channeling our collective fear into a kind of momentary clarity, the clarity of being alive during conclusive times, the joy of being historically important by association?"
Profile Image for emma.
152 reviews569 followers
October 2, 2017
edit: downgrading this to one star, because I was thinking about this book today and all I can really remember is how much I hated it.

I doubt I would have finished this if it wasn't required reading for a class.

It was a bizarre mashup of American consumerism, societal decay, obsession with technology, the search for immortality, and depressing relationships that I wasn't able to get into.

My main issue with this novel was really the main characters, though. I just couldn't bring myself to care about what happened to them, and that made getting through the book pretty difficult. Eunice's chapters were a bit better than Lenny's but not by much, mainly because they were about her interacting with people rather than Lenny's ramblings about how much of a failure his life has been and how sorry he feels for himself.

The only semi-decent part about it is that the world it's set in is kinda interesting? The decline of the US and rise of China, the rabid consumerism, the need to be constantly connected online and the total loss of interest in reading and literature..... Although it's incredibly depressing view of the near future, it's also sort of morbidly fascinating and plausible.
Profile Image for nostalgebraist.
Author 3 books426 followers
August 12, 2016
Well, Uh, Jeez

This isn't really "four stars" at all -- it's more like a superposition between one star and five stars. Yesterday I said this book was "33% clever, funny and accomplished, 17% moving and possibly profound, 25% banal and lazy, 25% creepy, onanistic and self-congratulatory." That is still roughly true, though I might jiggle the percentages a bit now. So I think my attitude can only be expressed in some good/bad dialectic:

The Good: Well, to start out, it's really funny. My favorite bit was that, in the near future setting, the U.S. (which has completely gone to shit culturally and financially) has become a single-party state, and the party is called the "Bipartisan Party." That was so funny I went around telling all my friends about it! Also, wow, Shteyngart really has a way with words.

The Bad: Okay, but on the other hand, Jesus Christ does this book exude smugness. The main character, Lenny Abramov, shares a number of biographical details with Shteyngart himself, and is the only character who gets anything like a literary viewpoint (everyone else is depicted from a clinical distance, through dialogue and email-like messages). He's pretty much undeniably a self-insert, if perhaps a partial one. And he is almost explicitly the only really human character. He appears to be the only person in future-America who actually reads books anymore. (Bafflingly, everyone else finds printed books so unfamiliar that they complain about how they smell.) He is the only person who speaks with anything approaching subtlety or feeling. The other characters, even the major ones, are broad, grotesque satirical types and speak as you would expect those types to speak. He reads Tolstoy and talks like a talented novelist; his friends talk like characters out of the sitcom Nathan Barley. His girlfriend is overawed (and somewhat confused) by how sensitive he is, because everyone other male in this quasi-dystopia seems to be some sort of social-media-obsessed psychopath with no discernible emotions whatsoever. In this fantasy world of vastly lowered standards, Abramov's basic and unimpressive human decency shines as if a beacon, inspiring fascination and trepidation in equal quantities among the unsouled husks that surround him.

On top of "smugness" we can add "creepiness." In the opening scene, Lenny (who is 39) meets a Korean woman named Eunice who is 15 years his junior. He is intensely attracted to her and seems to view her as some sort of tiny, delicate, Asian fetish object:

She had full shiny lips and a lovely if incongruous splash of freckles across her nose, and could not have weighed more than eighty pounds, a compactness which made me tremble with bad thoughts. [. . .]

I was pleased by her humility, acquiring a steady, throbbing erection.

[. . .] I wanted to reach over and touch her empty chest, feel the tough little nipples that I imagined proclaimed her love.

I was hoping that this was just an isolated episode intended to indicate how much of a lout our protagonist was . . . then I read the back cover summary and learned that she was the main love interest. Indeed, across the course of Lenny and Eunice's entire love affair -- which is apparently meant to be involving and affecting -- this kind of patter is utterly incessant, going far beyond what would be necessary to establish a motif or a theme and instead qualifying as an obsession. To Lenny everything about Eunice is "little" and "Korean" and confusingly, enticingly young, and he sees her more as the sum of these fetishized attributes than a real person. The implications seems to be that Lenny's fetishistic view of love and sex should be embraced because it, being emblematic of pre-digital civilization -- creepy old white men certainly aren't a uniquely modern problem -- represents a superior alternative to the hordes of Barleyesque, cellphone-jabbing, Tolstoy-ignorant straw men that populate Super Sad America. It's either this guy and his Asian schoolgirl fetish or the death of western civ! Talk about a false dichotomy!

The Good: Okay, but your (I'm done pretending this isn't an internal dialogue) interpretation loses consistency when it concedes that Shteyngart's a good and subtle and perceptive writer in a lot of ways, but then expects that he is somehow totally oblivious to how bad his so-called "self-insert" comes off.

Take this example. Several incidental characters wear shirts with a logo consisting of the words "SUK DIK." This appears to be a popular brand in the book's America. This is a typical Shteyngartian joke --

The Bad: -- in that it's lazy satire based on Shteyngart's incomprehension of youth culture --

The Good: -- fine, whatever, but I'm going somewhere with this. "SUK DIK," the brand, is typical of most of the pop culture depicted in the book in that it's superficially both comedic and hypersexual, but neither discernibly clever nor conceivably sexy to anyone of any possible persuasion. Indeed, this seems to be the point of this sort of thing. Some of Lenny's friends spend their time producing their own video podcasts, which tend to be trashy, hyper-sexual versions of political talk shows. (In one case, the most extreme version of this joke, one guy simply alternates political discussion with uncensored footage of himself having sex.) All of this seems like a response to an anxiety about sex, romance, intimacy and the like -- an attempt to assert a confident comfort about these subjects while also avoiding their most appealing and potentially embarrassing aspects. Once your shirt says "SUK DIK," how much further is it even possible to go? So goes the naive response. And yet the SUK DIK-wearers undoubtedly have their own share of hang-ups, anxieties, and possibly even socially unacceptable fetishes, just like Lenny Abramov. The culture they embrace is inane, boring, unmoving and not even interesting on a sexual level, which is all by design, since its purpose is to make sure that no one, at any point, ever feels even a little vulnerable.

So the embarrassing and cringe-inducing aspects of Lenny's fumbles toward intimacy, the almost gross-out lengths to which Shteyngart takes these things, are intended to stress just how much easier it is to hole yourself up in your unassailably pointless SUK DIK shirt and pretend you know what the fuck you're doing. Shteyngart wants you to respond negatively to his protagonist so you can realize that responses like that are part of the psychological armor you wear to prevent yourself from having to think about how unavoidably risky it is to open up to people. The kind of criticism you are mustering is, quite literally, the highbrow equivalent of a SUK DIK t-shirt. Psychiatrist, heal thyself!

The Bad: Okay, but now you're imagining Shteyngart as some sort of highly subtle writer, and I just don't think that matches the evidence. For instance, okay, suppose we detach Lenny from Shteyngart himself. Maybe Lenny's even one of those "unreliable narrators" you like so much. But what about the sections not told from Lenny's perspective? These are collections of (what amount to) emails, mostly to or from Eunice. Eunice talks in an absurd melange of grotesque future-slang, Valley Girl superficiality, and that kind of plodding "um I think that maybe it's kind of like [insert cliche here], whoa I just blew my own mind" talk that bad writers use to indicate that a character isn't exactly the brightest bulb in the box.

Lenny condescends to her because she's been educated in Idiocracy-land where people only "scan texts" rather than reading and communicate largely in "Images" [capitalization in original], which makes no sense whatsoever in the age of Harry Potter and text messaging. What could it even mean to "communicate in Images"? Eunice finds the idea of reading books incomprehensible and yet she communicates with her friends and parents in long emails. How does this fit together? Where is the authorial control? And yet in many ways the Eunice of the emails looks worse than the Eunice in Lenny's mind -- an idiotic Californian stereotype who Shteyngart cruelly presses into service for the sake of his dumb, bargain-bin "satire" at the expense of real characterization.

The Good: But surely that isn't true. After all, Eunice comes across in the emails as a sympathetic and well-rounded character. You were emotionally moved by some of her sections. (You can't deny that -- we're the same person!)

And aren't you missing the fact that a lot of this satire is meant to turn back around and blow up in Lenny's face? For instance this:

Prof Margaux in Assertiveness Class said, "You are allowed to be happy, Eunice." What a stupid American idea. Every time I thought of killing myself in my dorm room I thought of what Prof Margaux said just started howling with laughter. You're ALLOWED to be happy. Ha! Lenny always quotes this guy Froid who was a psychiatrist who said that the best we can do is turn all our crazy misery, all our parents [sic] bullshit, into common unhappinesss. Sign me up.

So, yes, even in a serious moment like this, Shteyngart can't help but do the "kids these days are dumb" thing ("Lenny always quotes this guy Froid"). But on the other hand, this is a fascinating sentiment wonderfully expressed, and the essentially insignificant errors (what could be less significant than a spelling error that doesn't impede comprehension?) just underscore Lenny's basic intellectual/emotional impotence. What does it add to "quote this guy Freud" in this context? What is all this learning worth if you're just another pretentious schmuck who thinks his emotions are more real than other people's, because you can state yours in a high-status register?

Lenny's sections of the book are filled with anxiety about his own lack of real skills, his near-zero comprehension of the political and economic scene, his deafness to the nuances of sartorial taste and social decorum. Eunice isn't just a girlfriend or a contact point with youth culture, she's a surrogate mom. Tolstoy and that guy Freud are Lenny's own SUK DIK shirt, a hilariously inadequate barricade against everything that makes him feel pathetic. Somewhere inside, he knows that this "the only man in America who reads anymore" schtick doesn't really do justice to the complex souls of the people who cross his path and share his bed, but he can't bear to give it up without collapsing into an anxious wreck. Let me get this straight: you were telling me this book was "smug"?

The Bad: But none of this counteracts the basic lack of authorial control that pervades the entire book. You are making everything very complicated and subtle, which is easy to do because Shteyngart hasn't actually done the work of teasing any of these ideas apart before splattering them onto the page. Yes, there's real, involving characterization in the Eunice sections. I'm not denying that Shteyngart is talented. But talent isn't the same as control, and he seems to have no idea what he's doing. Eunice Park is simultaneously:

a) an attempt at a well-rounded literary character,

b) a caricature of Teenage Girls These Days straight out of central casting who talks in unbelievable inanities and hypersexual slang and spends all of her unoccupied time looking at sexy outfits on shopping websites with names like "AssLuxury" and "TotalSurrender,"

c) an embodiment of the Mysterious Feminine Other and the Entwined Hope/Horror of Intimacy as they appear in Lenny Abramov's / Gary Shteyngart's (??) tortuous psyche

The problem is that, although all of these elements are executed "successfully," they mesh together horribly. The point about that guy Froid is well taken, but it simply can't account for the tide of horrible shit that Shteyngart lets himself write in the Eunice sections; it's impossible to believe that a real person could possibly talk like this, at least not in a world where people can be as lyrical as Lenny is. (He appears in the emails occasionally, and comes off as awkward and embarrassing, but humanly so rather than grotesquely so.) The sheer stupidity of a lot of Eunice's dialogue makes the central love story hard to buy or care about, because the characters just don't seem compatible on any level -- and then the sections that rise above this stupidity (like the one you quoted) feel like they come from a different book entirely. Some of Eunice's more baffling statements and decisions play very well into element c) but interfere with element a). These emails are presented as objectively existing texts, so there's no way to explain the way that they feel focalized through Lenny's perspective. The Lenny perspective isn't some unreliable narrator thing -- it is literally, if you strip away all the glitz and excuses, how Shteyngart sees the world.

The blurbs and pull-quotes for this book were unbelievable. In the "Praise for Super Sad True Love Story" section and on the back cover, Shteyngart is likened to

"Orwell on acid"
Cormac McCarthy
Orwell (3rd time)

When you invoke names like this you are suggesting a certain mastery, an ability to control the meanings you create, that Shteyngart just doesn't have. Praising this book in this way feels a bit like patting Lenny Abramov on the back for being a nice guy who reads books, while he meanwhile leers at Korean girls (has he mentioned that they're Korean? This is very important to him!).

The Good: Okay, but now it sounds like you're saying that this book, although demonstrative of talent, was bad because it made you uncomfortable and made you feel things you weren't sure how to categorize. Isn't that the point of literature, or something? Surely, as I've argued already, it is the point of this book! Have fun with your SUK DIK shirt.

The Bad: On the other hand, we've had a weird time these past few weeks, and just about everything has been an emotional roller coaster, intrinsic qualities aside. What I'm saying is more that this book, although it deftly presses many emotional buttons, leaves no sense of hidden depths or subtlety. It is not a book we will find ourselves returning to much in our thoughts, or one we will ever want to re-read. The insincerity of your arguments will become clear as the book's memory fades in hindsight. Anything subtle is worth revisiting; this book isn't.

The Good: You don't think it might be worth revisiting just for its, like, ebullient-yet-lapidary prose? I mean, check out this phrase you noted down while racing through the last 50 pages tonight: "the claret of labor in her cheeks." Amazing! Those ruddy, laborious plosives! That's like something Nabokov would say. Isn't he your hero or something?

The Bad: Look, this is a novel where, when the main character reads to his girlfriend in bed, in a stupid scene that's supposed to illustrate how he's all literary and she doesn't get how books work, the book he chooses to read is The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I mean, of all of the bad, smug, middlebrow shit he could have chosen . . . That's like our least favorite book! It hurts ussssss, precious!

The Good: And yet, there are plenty of perfectly competent, basically not that interesting books that we have four-starred because they were "objectively good." And none of those made us write this many words as though we cared about them. Which is a pretty inarguable reason to give this one at least four stars, right? Even if it just got your goat, I mean, surely that's something?

The Bad: Villain that I am (my name is literally "The Bad," after all), I guess I can't argue with that.

Profile Image for Rayroy.
212 reviews75 followers
June 27, 2014
Worst Book Ever!

Hated Lenny and his old hipster pals so much that I didn't enjoy, an otherwise good read. It seems Gary Shetyngat, wrote this book for smug "New York Times" reading intellectuals who are ashamed of thier own farts, don't own a T.V., tell people at cocktail parties how they would never eat Funyuns,refuse to shop at Wal-Mart but shop at Target, who are always the first to buy the new iphone 5 whatever the fuck it is now. This was overrated and a waste because while the idea of the book is good, I couldn't get over how most of the characters were just yuppies and I just wanted to fucking punch them in the fucking face and you just got the yuppie/hipster view of things and characters that weren't yuppies were written as slow and dimwitted dopes. Fuck this book
The fact that people act like Lenny and his pals angers me! It has that attitude
that if you live in a red-state or like baseball that you are culturally retarded, fuckoff hipsters and fuck yuppies you smell overwhelming smug
Profile Image for Huy.
741 reviews
December 24, 2017
Sách gì mà buồn chết bỏ, buồn đau đớn đến tận tâm can, nỗi buồn nào cũng đánh ngay thẳng vào tim vì chúng quá thật.
Cuốn sách thuộc thể loại dystopia đặt thế giới vào một tương lai gần nhưng cảm giác như thể cách chúng ta có vài bước chân. Nỗi buồn vì chủ nghĩa vật chất lên ngôi, nỗi buồn về một thế giới rệu rã sắp đến hồi cáo chung, nỗi buồn về nỗi cô đơn trong đô thị rộng lớn, nỗi buồn vì sự hữu hạn của đời sống và vô tình của thời gian, nỗi buồn vì yêu và tình dục trong thời đại số hóa trở nên gấp gáp và vô cảm, nỗi buồn vì tình yêu sách vở trở thành điều lập dị và đáng khinh.
Mỗi lần đọc hết vài chương, khi dừng lại tôi chỉ muốn cắt đứt tất cả mối ràng buộc của mình với thế giới này, bỏ hết công việc, không muốn gặp gỡ một ai, chỉ muốn một mình yên lặng trong bóng tối rồi từ từ tan biến khỏi cuộc đời buồn bã này.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,418 reviews4,382 followers
March 14, 2017
We were arguing about John Updike the other day, about how he "persists in the bizarre, adolescent belief that getting to have sex with whomever one wants whenever one wants to is a cure for human despair."* And now here's Shteyngart's protagonist, who looks like and is the same age as Shteyngart, with his much-younger girlfriend who looks "like a poster child for eternity":

"'I'm worried about dying,' I said.
'And she makes you feel young?' Grace said.
'She makes me feel bald.'"

I feel like Shteyngart's trying to weasel around the same accusations that get leveled against Updike, and other writers whose ids do much of the writing for them, with the bald crack - by insisting he's aware that this idea is pathetic. But then he and the young lady have sex and "she groaned with what I hoped was pleasure" - and it's confirmed by her: "it wasn't bad. What he lacks in looks he more than makes up for in passion." So he may not be having his cake, but he is certainly eating it.

So Sheyngart is indulging in some wish fufillment. He's all, "I know this is pathetic, but here's what I wish..." and you're like, "You're right: that's pathetic." Just because you're aware that you're doing it doesn't mean you're not doing it.

Aside from that, the book's setting is the near future, where all our dumbest and most obvious fears have come to pass. Ladies are wearing see-through jeans. Everyone's personal computers broadcast their "Fuckability scores". The Occupy movement has armed itself.

It's meant as an examination of getting old, and the lengths we'll go to to fight it. It's not that I don't get it; how could I miss it? It's not subtle. I just don't think the examination is carried out in an interesting or perceptive way. I found this dull and embarrassingly transparent. I've heard Absurdistan is better, but this one is lame enough that better is still bad. Shteyngart, like old people, is going on the discard pile.
Profile Image for Melissa.
382 reviews79 followers
July 2, 2017
This was one of the greatest novels I've read in some time.

Shteyngart is so clever and creative and, as Eunice in this book would say, "brain smart," that he actually makes me realize I'm probably not cut out to be a writer myself. The book is a painfully believable vision of the not-too-distant future. Every parody of modern life is spot on -- the disintegrated language, the vapid culture, the obsession with wealth and longevity, America's crumbling economy and world standing caused by ongoing war, devalued currency, and an uninvolved/uninformed public. There is so much that's great in this book, like the fact that Eunice majored in Images and Assertiveness in college, and the way that everyone wants to work in Media or Retail (and Retail is considered to be prestigous), and the names of companies like AlliedWasteCVSCitigroup and LandO’LakesGMFordCredit.

This is the second book of his I read. The first was Absurdistan and, although you get the feeling that the main character of both books are based off of himself, Lenny is a much more relatable character. Everyone who reads a book like this is going to be, well, a reader, in a time when there really aren't that many readers. How can we, as readers, not sympathize with a man who insists upon holding onto his "printed, bound media artifacts" when everyone else thinks they're smelly? He's a dork, and you want him to come out on top, even though it's fairly clear from the start that this is a man who was not made for his times and probably cannot win.

Super sad? Yeah. Also super funny, super clever, and, I'd say, super prescient. Super good! Super read it.
Profile Image for Charity.
632 reviews440 followers
August 27, 2010
Upon finishing this novel, I rushed on to Goodreads expecting to see a ton of scathing reviews for this suckfest of a book. Imagine my surprise and dismay finding myself in the overwhelming minority of Super Sad True Love Story Haters. Well, too bad. I'm calling it like it is...

The emperor has no clothes!

This book sucks aaaaaaaaaaassssssssssss. Nothing redeemable. Nothing entertaining. Nothing worth my time. All the critics are total whores and I feel snowed for reading this. I am extremely glad to have put it behind me. Ick.

(Many props for this shining star of a review. You really nailed it, David!)

(First Reads Win.)
Profile Image for christa.
745 reviews277 followers
July 25, 2010
Gary Shteyngart's fuckability levels must be off the chart right now. If he were to walk past a credit pole, numbers that rival elite college standard SAT scores blink in his wake. He might even be considered a candidate for eternal life, according to the Post Human Services division of the Staatling-Wapachung Corporation -- if he drinks his green tea and veers clear of trans fats.

Gary Shteyngart is so hot right now. He's a newly-minted member of The New Yorker's "20 Under 40" club; Every bit of media in the world that writes about writers is writing about him; There is a kicky trailer for his third novel "Super Sad True Love Story," with a cast so ripe with hot author-types that it is damn-near a literary equivalent of the movie "The Outsiders." (I'll see your C.Thomas Howell, and raise you a Jay McInerney).

If you set aside the very farkle narkle media blitz that is required to have an "it" book, "Super Sad True Love Story" stands on its own. Although saturating the internet with Gary Shteyngart is very much in line with the theme of his dystopic love story set in a recognizable future where iPhone-like devices are called aparats, and everyone communicates on a social networking site called GlobalTeens, a hybrid of Facebook, YouTube, online banking, Google reader and "Am I Hot or Not." The texting dictionary has expanded to include things like JBF (just butt fucking), and TIMATOV (think I'm about to openly vomit).

Lennie Abramov is, by pop standards, an old man. The son of Russian immigrants, a slight Jewish man with a sunken face and gleaming white forehead and a sickle of a nose. On his last night of a yearlong work trip in Rome, he meets Eunice -- a young Korean hottie matottie in her early 20s -- and they have an awkward sexual exchange. While Lennie romanticizes the event, starts mentally planning a life with the 80-pound minx, Eunice is GlobalTeening her BFF about the gross guy she hooked up with, his awful bunions, how she had to teach him to brush his teeth.

Lennie returns to his unfashionable digs in the Lower East Side (all the cool kids -- those involved with Media, Credit, or Retail -- live on Staten Island). The single-party United States is at war with Venezuela. The dollar has been replaced by Chinese yaun. Girls wear onion-skin jeans, see-through attire that reveals waxing habits. Book-books are considered archaic and stinky. Reading one on an airplane draws the same sneers as, say, lighting a cigarette. Credit poles line the streets of New York, rankings projected when you walk past. A person's fuckability number is always recalibrating. Go to a bar, and with a few taps on an aparat, you can learn that you are considered by other patrons to be the least attractive man in the room.

Eventually Eunice accepts Lennie's invitation to return to the U.S., and live with him. Her father, a violent drunk, is tormenting her mother, an enabler, and her sister, a blossoming activist, over things like spoiled tofu. She wants to be nearby to monitor the situation, and in the process falls a little bit in love with Lennie, but never stops quantifying those feelings with admissions that he's old and unattractive and a nerd-face with a nose like an elephant. They take long walks through Central Park, where Low Net Worth Individuals have set up a sort of resistance camp. They travel to Staten Island to hang with Lennie's college friends: Noah and his girlfriend, who are always mid-live stream, and the comparatively domesticated couple Vishnu and Grace. Lennie tries to reclaim favor with Joshie, the 70-something owner of a company that helps High Net Worth Individuals live forever. Joshie is also a customer, his face melded into something that looks less war torn than Lennie's, and his vocabulary an embarrassing text-lish where he incorporates the acronyms, but also falls into, say, Groucho Marx-isms.

And then everything combusts in a sort of 9/11 way. Aparats go dark, water is scarce, and survival depends on who you know, where you work, and education level.

There is a lot, a lot going on in this super delicious novel. It's like one of those movies you would have to see six times to notice every nuance to fully appreciate. It is funny, and sweet, and also a little scary for its proximity to now, a world where everyday we put our lives in danger by text messaging while crossing the street. Where a thought isn't just a thought, it's a status update, and books with pages are being phased out in popularity for their e-counterparts. It's a real thinker on a lot of levels: Political, social, communication and even the role of those stinky novels we like so much. Consider what Shteyngart said to the Wall Street Journal in a recent interview:

"The novel is a disaster at this point. It's not a disaster that there are no good novels being written. There are wonderful novels written. It's that our brains are being disassembled right now and being put back together in a whole different shape, and that is not going to be conducive to reading a 300-page thing that doesn't have any links."
1 review
January 16, 2014
It took me a little while to realize what made me hate this book so much. It wasn't the unlikeable characters -- who are, without exception, horrible people. It wasn't the repellantly vapid world these characters inhabit, which is as limp, unfairly reductive and fundamentally fogeyish as any critique of the information age I've ever seen. It wasn't the "super sad love story" itself, which at base is a fairly standard romcom thing, albeit with some weird racial politics and misogyny mixed in to taste (in the future, all women are bisexual whores who are porn addicts from kindergarten, call each other "meathole," and let groups of men pee on them in public. At some point we cross the rubicon separating jeremiad from the author's masturbatory fantasy).

All of this had me TIMATOV, in the book's incredibly dumb imitation of internet acronym speak (which would have been incisive circa fucking 1999), but none of it accounts for the irrational hatred I feel for this piece of shit book. Because, after all, that's the point. Shteyngart's world is supposed to be horrible. It's a dystopia. What good is a dystopia if its world doesn't depress you and its characters don't repel you?

At first I thought maybe the problem was the poorly handled satire. The jokes are eye-rollingly obvious and trite. Example: the financial crisis that brings about America's final collapse is called The Rupture. Get it? In case you didn't, Shteyngart makes sure to stick in a billboard that asks if you're Rupture-ready. How droll! And beyond that, even as a satire, the book's internal logic is impossible to believe. The story takes place in this decade, and yet we're somehow supposed to believe that everyone, even our Ivy League schools have abandoned books altogether, that everyone has suddenly become illiterate, that no one knows names like Freud or Tolstoy anymore.

But this isn't it either. The real thing that pisses me off about this book is the superiority of it all. Unearned superiority from the awful hipster lumpenproletariat/petit-bourgeois chimera class. Shteyngart, through his narrator alter-ego, kindly reminds us how much better and smarter he is than everyone.

Oh sure, he makes a show of depicting his narrator Lenny as kind of a twat, a self-absorbed, over-privileged loser, and we are meant to see this all as the kind of writerly self-loathing that every good novelist has. But under that facade is the preening narcissism of a guy who thinks, man, if only all these dumb broads I dated were well-educated and well-read like I am -- if only everyone read Kundera like I do -- the world wouldn't be such a shitty place.

There's something fundamentally nauseating about a novel where, with the poor literally being slaughtered en masse, the narrative's two most pressing conflicts are 1) the upper-middle class narrator's girl troubles, and 2) the upper-middle class narrator's ennui that he won't get to live for eternity. The only times we visit with the people actually suffering in any tangible way are when our dilettante protagonists take some time out from eating prosciutto and worrying about their credit scores to pass out bottles of water to refugees and feel better about themselves -- all of this being treated with the "poor people are so noble but I hope they don't sit near me" mentality every rich little trust fund baby has. There's a scene toward the end where the narrator discusses his romantic woes while a slave laborer is publicly executed 30 feet away.

Of course, comes the counter-criticism, that's the point: this is a satire on how self-absorbed the upper classes have become. Maybe so. And maybe in a way it's also a commentary on all romantic narratives -- why should we ever care about John Q. Richwhitedude's depression when people are starving in Africa? Etc., etc. And yet on some level I can't help feeling Shteyngart is kidding on the square. He expects us to care about Lenny Abramov who "only" has a million dollars in the bank, who can't quite yet extend his life indefinitely, who gets to hide in his apartment with his books, guarded by hired mercenaries while a genocide happens outside. Well to that I say: fuck Lenny Abramov, fuck him right in his eyesockets.

I haven't made a habit of reviewing books on here because I generally like most books I read and don't think I have anything interesting or insightful to add. Frankly, I don't think I have anything interesting or insightful to add with this, either. But having had this turd perpetrated on me, I had to say something: so there you go. This book sucks.
Profile Image for Laura Leaney.
462 reviews107 followers
September 17, 2012
This book is a somewhat frightening vision of future America – one controlled by the police, owned by China (everything is “yuan-pegged”), manipulated by corporate retail, and slavishly beholden to youth culture. The protagonist, Lenny Abramov, a reader of actual paper books (smelly!) vacillates between the sharp fearsome knowledge that he’s becoming old and unnecessary and cynical self-awareness that he’s still superior to the vast majority of idiots who are part of the hip crowd. Regardless, he's one of the good guys: kind, anxious, and painfully human.

When Lenny gets back to work after sojourning in Europe, he’s told he doesn’t have a desk anymore:

“What should I do?" I whispered.
“It would help,” she said, “if you looked a little younger. Take care of yourself. Go to the Eternity Lounge. Put some Lexin-DC concentrate under your eyes.”
The Eternity Lounge was crammed full of smelly young people checking their äppäräti or leaning back on couches with their faces up to the ceiling, de-stressing, breathing right. The even, nutty aroma of brewing green tea snuck a morsel of nostalgia into my general climate of fear.”

Even though I found reading the acronyms of the new culture somewhat tiresome, they contributed to the satire on American values. HNWIs are “high net worth individuals” and JBF means “just butt fucking” with you. The acronyms are horribly close to the smallness of writing for the internet/Twitter/Facebook world happening right now in present time. Lenny, balding, soft, 39 years old, tries hard to stay with it. His love interest, a svelte Korean girl fifteen years his junior, remakes him enough to save his position as a Post-Human Services salesman for the Staatling-Wapachung Corporation. Shteyngardt completely captures the great chasm between them through the language they use. Lenny’s point of view is given to us through his “Dear Diary” entries, and his girlfriend, Eunice Park, is mostly portrayed through her Globalteens account, which includes letters to her friend who is alternately known as “Precious Pony” and”Grillbitch,” her mother, a Korean immigrant who is beaten and abused by her husband, and her sister Sally. Here is Eunice to Grillbitch: “Sup, slut? I really wish you were here right now. I need someone to verbal with and Teens just ain’t cutting it.” In between discussions on shopping at Assluxury and JuicyPussy, the emptiness of a world based on consumption and appearance is revealed anew. “Looking good is the new smart.”

I admire the way the author handled the confusion of the America’s political situation. No one seems to know what’s going on. China appears to be pulling the strings, but the ostensible government is busy waging war on Venezuala as well as American citizens. At the beginning of the novel, Lenny’s plane is surrounded by police; when they’re asked to wait under a “security shed,” a tank rolls over to them and all the passengers raise their hands. A soldier emerges from the tank and plants a highway sign next to the tank that reads:


That might the keenest criticism of governmental doings I’ve read in ages.
Profile Image for Michael.
836 reviews610 followers
April 19, 2011
Super Sad True Love Story is a novel set in a very near future—oh, let’s say next Tuesday—where the world is dominated by Media and Retail. The story is centred on a thirty nine year Russian immigrant, Lenny, and what could likely be the world’s last diary. As well as the object of his affection; Eunice, who has her side of the story to by a collection of e-mail correspondences on her "GlobalTeens" account.

While this may be a story of a modern relationship; there is so much more in the novel worth exploring. This Dystopian American back drop mixed with some very interesting concepts; including the fact everyone is ranked based on their Finances, Personality, Attractiveness and Fuckablilty, makes this a fresh and different style of novel. Gary Shteyngart offers a witty and very humorous novel but this book goes much deeper than this; I found many interesting concepts in this book, which were well thought out and made for an opportunity to make in-depth conversations based on this book.

By reading this review you are denying the existences of this review.
134 reviews197 followers
June 18, 2010
Full of promise in the early going, with at least one truly inspired scene of grimly comic futurism. But man does this thing go down in flames. I can't imagine anyone giving a shit about the titular love story, and the satire gets less and less convincing. Fail.
Profile Image for Bonnie G..
1,297 reviews188 followers
June 30, 2021
I usually write reviews soon after I finish a book. Sometimes within moments, sometimes the next day, but always soon after. I do that in part because as I age my memory continues to deteriorate, and because most of the time I know how I felt, what I learned or observed, and what I want to say about that reading experience. Not so with this book.

This book is indeed sad, but also funny and thought provoking. There were aspects of this book that were 5-star worthy, some more than 5-star worthy. Lenny is a beautifully drawn character. He is a 40 year old who is old before his time in a country that values nothing so highly as youth. I suspect Gary Shteyngart had an intimate understanding of Lenny. Which brings me to one aspect of the book that I did not like. This story set in the near-future (which was of course not based on a real near-future but very much 2008-09 blown up for satire's sake) read like the hand-wringing of a neurotic 70-year old with his "in my day" and "the kids these days have no work-ethic" and "we are going to hell in a handbasket", etc. In its chicken-littleness it is off-base in so many particulars. In this near future we are apparently so vulgar that we are going to be shopping at AssLuxury for Juicy Pussy clothing and watching amateur water sport porn for fun. Again, I get that its satire, but it really just seemed fussy and cranky. Books will be a thing of the past and language reduced to a pastiche of slang and simple declarative statements (and there is Shteyngart's Achilles heel) instead we'll only read streamed information off our mobiles. In this world no one needs people building their intellect or empathy through reading. New York will clearly divide its haves from its have-lesses and its have-nots, protecting people in Manhattan and "Brownstone Brooklyn" from the odious necessity of having to glimpse anything unpleasant. The only jobs available will be in healthcare aimed at eternal life, media (journalism is dead in this future, media is just content creation), banking, and retail. Some of these things have a grain of truth in them, but its a grain. The one really interesting idea is that China and the Netherlands will call in their markers and own our asses. That might happen. But other than the impact on the monetary system (the dollar becomes meaningless unless its a form of the currency linked to the Yuan.) Shteyngart does not fully explore what that will mean, our domination by foreign powers. The monetary issue is huge, but there are other things that would come with loss of control, and I don't think Shteyngart handled that well. In the book the US has become militarized, life in some ways being like I imagine it is in North Korea and noticeably what it was like in China when I lived there in the 80's and 90's. Maybe I was supposed to assume everything was being controlled by despotic foreign powers, but as far as I could tell it was just a despotic American president who was in cahoots with the money guys. But though I think those were all missed opportunities to tighten up the story, it was the way in which Shteyngart spoke of men and women in this imagined future that ruined part of the book for me.

Apparently in the future gender interactions will tumble back to the 50's, except the women will fuck more, or at least more openly (there are no gender or sexuality fluid people in this future other than one gay man who does videos where he talks while being pounded in the ass [that is for the Chuck Tingle fans out there] by a large person for the entertainment of all and sundry.) Men in Shteyngart's invented world value women only for their youth and their hyper thin bodies. We hear over and over about beautiful Eunice, Lenny's "love" and her obsession with losing some of her 87 pounds. Women work in retail while men work in media and banking. Mostly women shop. Yes, I do believe that Americans are lauded for excess consumption, and that over time that will be more true, but why is it only the women who shop? In the future women remain obsessed only with acquisition and obsessed with their muffin tops. Why? We are past that point now, is there a reason we regress in the future? Shteyngart completely dehumanizes every woman in the book. There are some he sees as maternal figures and others he sees as or potential sex partners and status symbols. That is all he sees them as - hollow shells defined only by the ways they can (actually or potentially) please him. To quote John Lydon, this is not a love song. Lenny never loves Eunice. Lenny loves that other men envy him and think more highly of him because he has snared a young and skinny woman. Eunice never loves Lenny. She loves having a father figure who, unlike her own father, protects her, or at least tries. I don't know, maybe that was part of the satire but I don't think so. I think Shteyngart wanted this to be a couple in love forced apart by the shadowy leaders and a country gone to hell. I just could not get past this because it was a factor on every single page. Dystopia is fine, but why does our dystopia turn women back into mere adornment for men?

But there is a second super-sad love story here that I did love, and that is Shteyngart's love for New York. Shteyngart writes so heart-squeezingly well about this city that I love, and some of the things he sees as threats to its soul are real. The concentration of wealth in a few. The elimination of programs like rent control and stabilization that made this city "small d" demoncratic. You can't live here without seeing the rich, the middle class, the working class, the poor. Its right there, and that ugliness is what makes the city perfect. That is something we are losing in favor of things being cleaner or not being offensive. Go ahead NY, offend me! Keep offending me, and I will offend you right back. That right there is the good stuff, and there are a lot of people trying to change that and Gary and I, we are going to just stay and keep loving this place until its ours again. Even in his dystopian fantasy, Shteyngart finds moments to appreciate the city's magic. I was walking downtown on Fifth Ave today and as I passed The Pierre I was suddenly in this moment in the book where Shteyngart says “We headed south, and when the trees ran out, the park handed us over to the city. We surrendered to a skyscraper with a green mansard roof and two stark chimneys. New York exploded all around us, people hawking, buying, demanding, streaming..” (I had to riffle through the book to find this exact quote when I got home because it is perfect). "The park handed us over," damn that man can write.

So I have written a lot, and sometimes when I write it helps me cement my feelings about a book, but I am still conflicted. I am going with a four, but I believe that is many ways this book fails and is also almost violently misogynistic. (Notwithstanding the fact that Lenny and Eunice tell us repeatedly how much he enjoys cunnilingus. While that is a lovely attribute, it does not automatically mean you don't devalue and dehumanize women. And I could have stood to hear less about the face to genital experience of giving Eunice head,) In other ways I think this is one of the best 21st century books I have read. Maybe the reason for the good and the bad is that in some ways this is a late 20th century book wedged into the 21st century. Ach, I don't know, I need to keep thinking. I can say without question this is worth the time and effort.
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