Super Sad True (Gimmicky Uneven) Love Story
Gary Shteyngart’s most recent novel, Super Sad True Love Story, chronicle’s a few months in the life of Lenny Abramaov, a 39-year-old living in a dystopian New York City of the future. The disheveled, hapless Lenny falls improbably in love with the 23-year-old Asian-American beauty Eunice Park and she, even more improbably, reciprocates that love. Every reviewer calls it a satire, meant to exploit some men’s – but I would emphasize, not most men’s – propensity for dating below their age and intelligence, but far above their attractiveness.
It’s called a satire, but it seems plausible that the author accepted that designation in order to disguise the novel’s true classification as largely autobiographical – Shteyngart is in real life engaged to a younger, very attractive Asian-American woman, pictured eating with him somewhere in the Lower East Side here:
I hope for his sake that she is more enlightened than Eunice Park.
But either way, it makes the Lenny-Eunice affair borderline creepy, no?
Or, at least, a cut-and-dry cliché. It’s the relationship equivalent of a past-its-moment club in the Meatpacking District, where certain men use the only leverage they’ve got – money – to lure certain women whose only leverage is their youthful woman-ness. You’ll notice that no thinking person takes these clubs seriously.
Because of this and other elements, I found the novel by turns mesmerizing and infuriating. It carries you along on a gust of irritation from page one, where Lenny quote’s Whitney Houston’s The Greatest Love of All in such a context that I very nearly aborted the reading completely at paragraph four. But then, on to page two, where he writes this:
The phrase “I live for my kids,” for example, is tantamount to admitting that one will be dead shortly and that one’s life, for all practical purposes, is already over.
It turns again with a series of messages from Eunice’s Korean-born mother to her daughter that are borderline insulting – is there any easier target to mine for literary laughs than a person with imperfect English?
And reading yet another novel about an adult man who doesn’t know how to grow up breeds a sense of tedium, a figurative eye-roll, which also applies to the fact that Shteyngart is making a career out of writing novels about such men and the dumb, pretty women they fall in love with (Absurdistan followed a similar plotline), and that he appears to be one of these men.
In its entirety, the novel becomes an exercise in enduring the childish gimmicks and self-deprecations in order to get to the occasional flash of brilliance. It’s as though the novel is first and foremost a vehicle for Shteyngart to hate on himself. If he could stop, I bet he’d become a far better novelist.
UPDATE: A reader with insider knowledge informs me that while Shteyngart is no longer with the woman pictured above, the character of Eunice Park is indeed based on her. He is now engaged to a different woman of Korean descent.