I promised myself that after reading the desolate, desolate Oryx and Crake, I would turn my thoughts to dystopian novels that are more reasonable. Whatever that means. Super Sad True Love Story seemed like one such ‘reasonable’ dystopian, but in retrospect it has affected me just as much as Atwood’s, though not in entirely the same manner.
I feel it’s important to note that this was my first pick for our newly-fledged book club. To date, we’ve read fiction: I Am Legend, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, and now Super Sad True Love Story. Next time, we’ll be subjected to some non-fiction with Novella Carpenter’s Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (what an awesome name for an author, huh? Novella). We’ve all chosen books so far that we haven’t read ourselves – though since our regular members are limited to about five or six, it shouldn’t be too long before my turn comes around again and I’ll choose a book that I’ve read and loved. I’m pleased, however, that I went outside my comfort zone with this unusual piece of fiction.
Even though Super Sad True Love Story is a dystopian in that it’s set in a distinctly unfavourable future, it’s also a lot more than that. Lenny Abramov is a cringeworthy nerd, son of Russian immigrants, who falls impossibly in love with one beautiful, young Eunice Park. Reading Lenny through his dairy entries and Eunice through her chatroom-style messages to friends and loved ones, I can’t help but think of that old saying by Charlie Chaplin: “life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.”
There are some absolute gems scattered throughout the novel – Shteyngart has this incredible ‘speed-style’ way with words, like he’s knocked back a few too many Red Bulls, and yet it feeds so well into the whole fast-paced future thing that the prose will be loved by literature lovers and sci fi fans alike. Shteyngart’s imagination makes the radical seem possible, and even comfortable: I found myself borrowing phrases for my facebook messages to friends, and attempting to visualise what on earth the all-the-rage ‘onionskin’ jeans would look like (if anything at all).
As for the love story part, it’s there, but it’s certainly not traditional. Lenny’s love for Eunice is a little lopsided – Eunice takes a while to warm to his embarrassingly low ‘hotness rating’, his ridiculous contentedness with growing old, and his penchant for reading those smelly old things called ‘books’ – but the love story is beautiful, indeed both supersad and supertrue, and also kind of hilarious. I’m not one to laugh in books, but one morning reading this on the bus to work – the only seat left being that horrid two-seater that faces the back of the bus so everyone can watch your nose run in winter once the bus heater cranks up – I laughed out loud, and didn’t care for once who was watching.
Super Sad True Love Story is not an entirely easy read – mainly due to its length and its strange habit of going off on seemingly-unrelated tangents, but it is a worthy one. Tell me if you don’t laugh at least three times while reading it. Especially during the sad parts.