(Random House 2010)
Everybody loves a satire, especially when you’re at the heart of the joke. Gary Shteyngart leaves nothing safe as he hilariously and smartly ridicules our technology-dependent and slowly demising society, but somehow also creates a touching and beautiful love story between the hopelessly aging Lenny Abramov and the fountain of beauty and youth, Eunice Park.
Lenny works for a business that promises immortality to wealthy clients, given that they pay for expensive treatments of youth-enhancements and vitamin-packed drinks that the company believes in religiously. The obsession with youth is an on-going joke throughout the book, as Lenny struggles to remain hip and young with absurd slang he hears from his twenty-something coworkers and the lovely Eunice, peppering in acronyms like “JBF” (Just Butt-Fucking) or “TIMATOV” (Think I’m About To Openly Vomit) between his otherwise elegant choices of language. Eunice tries to resist being wooed by Lenny’s old-world charm and instead coldly mocks him relentlessly, as her friends advise her this will make him fall hopelessly in love with her. Every part of this book is an absurd extreme of what we see happening in today’s culture, and we can’t help but laugh at how embarrassingly true it all is.
The political climate is raging out of control, as America is against war with Venezuela, and nobody really knows why, but they all know that they feel strongly about the war and have lots of heated conversations about it. The dollar is plummeting and China owns all of America’s debt, and a financial crisis occurs (embarrassingly true again).
The book is set in our time period, but remember, it’s an absurdist extreme, and so everything is exaggerated for us to get some perspective, which Shteyngart provides in sharp and clever manner. Everybody has an äppärät, which is a freakishly advanced cell phone that’s in constant use, even when out together in social gatherings. Everybody streams their own kind of podcasts, which they believe the entire world is watching. Books are no longer read or owned, but you can scan texts on your äppärät if you need to for a class (which is probably the only reason you ever would). The social network, “GlobalTeens,” is a giant force of ignorance and commercialism, dolling out advice on hooking up and shopping, to which everybody subscribes.
This is a massive wave of social commentary Shteyngart provides, but it propels the love story of Lenny and Eunice so beautifully you almost forget the undertow of American insanity.