Don’t let them tell you life’s a journey. A journey is when you end up somewhere. When I take the number 6 train to see my social worker, that’s a journey. When I beg the pilot of this rickety United-ContinentalDeltamerican plane currently trembling its way across the Atlantic to turn around and head straight back to Rome and into Eunice Park’s fickle arms, that’s a journey.
So begins Lenny Abramov’s diary entry, “Do Not Go Gentle,” and so marks the opening of Gary Shteyngart’s third novel Super Sad True Love Story. Shteyngart goes to great lengths to establish a near-future world in which the United States has become a failing corporation, the youth can’t read, sex has become little more than a passing handshake, and even art cannot save people from the devastation of reality. Shteyngart’s novel is a masterfully crafted approach to dystopia, tragedy, the Bildungsroman, and comedy, all wound into 331 pages of tight prose.
The novel traces the aftereffects of coming-of-age for Lenny Abramov, the 39-year-old protagonist looking for acceptance and a place in the postmodern world as he tries to love the much younger Eunice Park, a member of the new lost generation of American youth. More importantly, though, Lenny struggles to love himself, and his struggle is felt again and again, discovering that not only is Eunice of the lost generation, but so his he. And Lenny’s lost generation is our generation.
Shteyngart presents this tale of the downfall of the American empire with a heavy dose of political satire and commentary on American culture in the first tenth of the 21st century, yet he does so with biting wit and a strength of voice that comes only from years of writing and revision—all of this pays off here. Shteyngart comes through, especially in this work, as a contender in contemporary fiction.
Let’s see if I can write about something other than my heart.
Clearly, Lenny fails in this attempt—to the success of the novel. Besides, when it comes down to it, what else is there to write about? Pick it up. Don’t put it down.