Satire is never easy, but it’s a particularly tough sell during the summer months. By mid-July, most everyone is ready to turn off their brains and enjoy some passive entertainment. But before you gorge yourself on techno-thrillers and chick lit, or pickle your cortex with frozen margaritas, do yourself a favor and consider adding Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story (Random House, $26) to your beach bag. Without being pedantic, it’s exceedingly clever, extremely insightful and frequently funny. If you’re a fan of The Daily Show or a compulsive reader of The Onion, Super Sad True Love Story is as much a must-have as SPF 50 sunscreen. It’s a truly enjoyable, near-effortless read. In the end, you’ll feel smarter for having tackled it.
Pity poor Leonard Abramov. His job at Post-Human Services requires him to engage HNWIs (High Net Worth Individuals) interested in Indefinite Life Extension. On an unsuccessful business trip to Rome, Lenny meets Eunice Park, a Korean art student who reminds him of “a very young Asian Audrey Hepburn.” She’s out of his league and they both know it, but that doesn’t prevent Lenny from being immediately smitten, and trying to coax Eunice to return home and meet his parents. Meanwhile, our economy is a mess; China is the superpower in charge; and the American Restoration Authority is firing on homeless people in Central Park. Everyone who is anyone carries a device called an äppärät, which not only contains your user profile (annual income, vital statistics, religious/sexual preferences, recent purchases) but also streams your rankings (personality, sexual desirability, sustainability) to the immediate community. Is Shteyngart making fun of us? You bet. Is it worth it? Absolutely.
Shteyngart was born in Leningrad, but emigrated to the United States when he was 7 years old. Although his parents spoke only Russian at home, and deprived Shteyngart of television for a number of years, he’s become a canny observer with a deep understanding of our language and popular culture. Super Sad True Love Story takes our obsession with consumerism, status and social networking to its illogical (and hilarious) extremes, and expertly skewers them all.
M. Scott Krause lives in Arizona and writes about books, film and television.