Sunday, August 22, 2010

Super Sad True Love Story

Finished Gary Shteyngart's new novel, Super Sad True Love Story.

The cover makes me think of Twister.

I love dystopian fiction. And I love the words/phrases/names the authors come up with for our future societies. 1984 had Big Brother. Infinite Jest had Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment, and acronyms like M.G.M (Militant Grammarians of Massachussets) and A.F.R (Les Assassins des Fauteuils Roulents [wheelchair assassins]). Super Sad True Love Story's vision of the future includes the American Restoration Authority (respresented by an otter mascot), OnionSkin Jeans, AlliedWasteCVSCitigroup, and the new texting acronym JBF (just butt fucking).

These parts are hilarious. Cynicism, satire, and social commentary abound. But at the heart of the story is the main character's struggle with his own mortality. And that's where I'm pulling the quotes from:

The children are our future only in the most narrow, transitive sense. They are our future until they too perish. The song's next line, "Teach them well and let them lead the way," encourages an adult's relinquishing of selfhood in favor of future generations. 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. "I'm gradually dying for my kids" would be more accurate.

Keep your heart. Your heart is all that matters. Throw away your shame! Throw away your modesty! Throw away your ancestors! Throw away your fathers and the self-appointed fathers that claim to be stewards of God. Throw away your shyness and the anger that lies just a few inches beneath. ... Accept your thoughts! Accept your desires! Accept the truth! And if there is more than one truth, then learn to do the difficult work--learn to choose. You are good enough, you are human enough to choose!

Today I've made a major decision: I am going to die.

Nothing of my personality will remain. The light switch will be turned off. My life, my entirety, will be lost forever. I will be nullified. And what will be left? Floating through the ether, tickling the empty belly of space, alighting over farms outside Cape Town, and crashing into an aurora above Hammerfest Norway, the northernmost city of this shattered planet--my data, the soupy base of my existence...Words, words, words.

You, dear diary.

A month ago, mid-October, a gust of autumnal wind kicked its way down Grand Street. A co-op woman, old, tired, Jewish, fake drops of jade spread across the little sacks of her bosom, looked up at the pending wind and said one word: "Blustery." Just one word, a word meaning no more than "a period of time characterized by strong winds," but it caught me unaware, it reminded me of how language was once used, its precision and simplicity, its capacity for recall. Not cold, not chilly, blustery. ...
"It is blustery, ma'am," I said to the old co-op woman. "I can feel it in my bones." And she smiled at me with whatever facial muscles she still had in reserve. We were communicating with words.

The last one was from the ending, which I really appreciated. The novel imagines a future where words aren't important. Books are deemed "smelly" and are no longer available, and text is "skimmed" entirely for informational purposes. Emotions are expressed almost entirely through acronyms. And face-to-face talking is called "verballing". It's kind of disturbing. But it's the future we're heading towards, so buckle in.


Here's the book's trailer:

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