herald

Sunday 17 December 2017

Femme Bookend: Super satire of network culture

Super Sad True Love Story
Gary Shteyngart
Granta €16

Sold as described?

Oh yes. And Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story is the big book of the season.

Hero Lenny is desperate to be loved and, as a result, brings out any attractive woman in hives.

Until?

He meets a gorgeous Korean girl in Rome and love blooms in her reluctant heart. At first, she describes him in texts to her friend as a “gross old guy, though kind of sweet”.

Doomed love, so?

Their love grows in tenderness in a dystopian near-future — 2030 or so — with the USA so disastrously indebted to powerful China that it’s about to collapse.

Dancing on the precipice?

America is being run by Stalin clone Defence Secretary Rubenstein, the sinister head of a far-right party that keeps electronic files on everyone. There are rumours of camps. Radicals disappear. (The awardgarlanded Shteyngart’s own Jewish family fled Leningrad for New York when he was seven, by the way.)

Lenny’s no radical, though?

Lenny is interrogated by a chirpy electronic otter as he exits Italy.

“Did you have any intimate physical relationships with any non-Americans during your stay?”

Say no! Say no!

Lenny says yes, some Italians, and the otter says “You said ‘Somalians”. So now he’s on the files. But he comes across Nettie Fine, an old leftie who helped his family long ago, and is working on the government

‘Welcome home, pa’dner’ programme.

Whew!

But on the plane, the only man without an ‘apparat’ (a smartphone that tracks your credit and sex appeal) is hauled off by the new Gestapo.

Funny, you said?

Hilarious. Everything’s sexualised — tooskinny girls wear see-through jeans bought in JuicyPussy, self-involved bloggers broadcast ‘news’ plus gay sex porn. When Lenny’s interviewed, every time he says a foreign word the blogger pleads: “Numbers dropping, ixnay on the Italianay”.

A bit of a stretch.

It feels logical, especially as everyone including 70-year-olds talks nerd-speak — “Chillax, dude!” — and Lenny works for a firm guaranteeing eternal life to HNWIs (high net worth individuals), while LNWIs, returned from the US war with Venezuela, riot in Central Park.

But the love, the love?

Oh yes. True love to the max, dude. And sad, man, so sad.

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