Recommended read: Super Sad True Love Story

 

super_sad_true_love_story_largeDon’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.

 

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Recommended Read: The Pugilist at Rest and 1Q84

This week’s Recommended Read is a one-two punch: the first an actual punch and the second a 926-page icepick to the back of the neck.

First we have Thom Jones’ 1993 volume The Pugilist at Rest, a collection of eleven stories that explore boxing, war, and what it means to be a man in the hypermasculine post fifties world (which Jones manages to achieve even though one of his stories is told from within the perspective of a woman). This collection, which launched Thom Jones into the fiction stratosphere, made its mark for two iconic stories, “I Want to Live!” and the title piece “The Pugilist at Rest,” which won him first place in Prize Stories 1993. While each piece is strong in its own way, the most remarkable is “Mosquitos,” which was first published in Story and chronicles a weekend in the life of a self-loathing ER doctor who drives a V-12 Jaguar and can’t seem to handle his relationship with his Ph.D., Volvo-driving brother or his hypersexuality.

 “I knew that either Clendon would become so pissed that he would leave that nasty-ass bitch or he would weasel under and suffer worse than that alienated hero in the Russian novel Crime and Punishment, Clendon’s favorite character of all time. I believe that dude’s name is Raskolnikov.”

Jones’ stories are both literary and non-literary, breaking rules and remaining unapologetically brutal. His war scenes are hard to read, his non-war scenes are entertaining and saddening, and his prose is sharp. Check it out.

Our second gem comes from the mind of Haruki Murakami (yes, again; but anybody that lug this tome around for a few days deserves a handshake or a hug from somebody) and is titled 1Q84. This is the latest from the visionary Japanese author who brought us The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore and takes us through the meanderings of a fledgling novelist/cram school math teacher and a twentysomething former religious fundamentalist assassin who kills douchebags with a needle to the back of the neck as the two of them pass through alternate realities centered around Japan in 1984. The novel, which makes its allusion to George Orwell’s masterpiece loud and clear, again showcases Murakami’s talent in the realm of magical realism. Murakami manages to make the weird seem no so weird, and even though it takes over nine hundred pages to do so, threads together detective story, bildungsroman, love story, and science fiction. It’s meticulous, ambitious, and a Spartan example of just where words can take us as readers and writers.

Whether you’re looking for an intense, tight story collection or a journey into the unknown that is all-too-familiar, you won’t go wrong with either of these well-crafted works.