Super Sad True Love Story

IMG_0284It’s the future and our world has turned into a giant social media mess.  From +800 statuses, to +1500 credit ratings, to communicating with äppäräts, teening, and staying young.  Gary Shteyngart creates an hysterically frightening in-your-face plastic world that is nothing more than society today exaggerated.  From the first pages of the novel we meet Lenny Abramov, a 39-year-old who works in the Post-Human Services Division of Staatling-Wapachung Corporation.  This corporation is trying to make it possible to live forever, young, and seemingly at all costs.  It’s through Lenny’s diary where we learn everything about him including what’s happening, who his friends are, what he’s feeling and doing.  Lenny is verging on “old”, suffering from male patterned baldness, has too much LDL cholesterol, and to top all of that off reads smelly books. We are introduced to his first thoughts and those are on a certain Eunice Park, who as he puts it “will sustain me through forever” (Super Sad True Love Story, p. 2)  Eunice is a 24-year “young”, sexy Korean girl who has no real prospects on life other than finding hot guys and spending her father’s money on online shopping.  She’s trying to pass the LSAT but really wants to work in retail. Super Sad True Love Story is told in a succession of diary entries, emails, text messages, and some face-to-face episodes. Henceforth, the reader is plunged into this futuristic world, do or die. The unsuspecting meeting of Lenny and Eunice is Shteyngart’s commencement to critiquing today’s society’s relationship with social media and our relentless obsessional, rapport with being young and never ageing.  Their love story is central to the novel but the real story is all that is surrounding them.  Shteyngart has developed a world in which he can critique, American society (immigrant and racial stereotypes), social media and its contagious world growth, however he puts so much into the world building that the characters of Lenny and Eunice appear flat and not defined enough.  By page 100 I didn’t care about either of them. Shteyngart’s writing style is very staccato.  Each page is filled with so much information that sometimes I had to reread some of the passages to make sure I understood everything.  There are myriads of eccentric characters and situations that happen that are crucial to understanding the plot of the book.  You will be surprised by Shteyngart’s creativity with words and sometimes you will smirk.  Knowing and understanding pop culture and intellectual culture will help in getting the jokes.  If you’re squeamish about sex, abstain.  The references could be considered very vulgar. I read the book in 3 days and at the end I was exhausted.  Super Sad True Love Story is 329 pages but by 200 you just want it togary shteyngart end, especially since the ending is predictable!  The overt use of racial stereotypes as a writing technique annoyed me enormously.  I feel using stereotypes just reinforces them and unreservedly does not make them go away.  On the whole, I would have liked this book a lot more if it would have been shorter.  In spite all the bad and exasperating, I’m glad I picked it up so that I could see what all the love for this book was about.   Not so sure I’ll pick up Shteyngart’s other novel, Absurdistan, because it sounds similar to this one humour wise,(gets old when 200+ pages) but I might pick up Little Failure so that I can see where he’s coming from with his writing.  I gave this 2 stars over on Goodreads, but that’s probably 2,5 stars to be exact.  If you read this one or any of Shteyngart’s other books, did you like it? Would you read any of his other books? If so, which ones?  Love hearing from you guys!

The Enchanted

IMG_0184I read The Enchanted the second week of last month (May).  It took me three days.  Once I got started I felt I needed to read it quickly or I’d stop reading it and never finish.  This is the story of prison, prisoners, the people who work there, and the system.  It starts with a beautiful passage introducing us to this enchanted place.  “This is an enchanted place.  Others don’t see it but I do.  I see every cinder block, every hallway and doorway.  I see the airways that lead to the secret stairs and the stairs that take you into stone towers and the towers that take you to windows and the windows that open to wide, clear air.” (The Enchanted p. 1)  From there this mysterious prisoner recounts the ins and outs of this “enchanted” place and the people in it.

The rest of the story is recounted in a third person that remains omniscient, even though we know this prisoner is real, even though we don’t his name (until the end).  He knows everything about the prisoners and the people who work there.  This is not really plausible but the reigning of magical realism scattered throughout the story allows for this.  By page 60 I was already a bit detached from the story because of this.  It didn’t help either that some of the main characters didn’t have names. They were referred to as the Lady, the Priest, and the Warden.  This made me detached from them.

I always seem to have a problem with magical realism in novels when its purpose is not defined correctly in the story.  The problem with the magical realism in this one is that it seems to be nothing more than a device to soften the horrors of the story.  Reading about violence and sexual abuse for 233 pages was difficult for me.  It didn’t get better as it went along.  It got worse.  The unfolding of the traumatic backgrounds of the different characters reinforced the points they have in common. There seemed to be no optimism or light at the end of the tunnel anywhere.   Denfeld obviously had an agenda when she wrote this novel and I felt slightly manipulated while reading it.  She used her personal experience to give realism to the story and that coupled with excellent prose adds a certain strength to the novel.  Unfortunately, I’m sure I wouldn’t have picked this book up if I would have known what it was really about.  It was very heavy and there were passages that were difficult for me to read.  The abuse and violence seemed to be unfaltering.  However the writing is very astute and to the point.  It is one of the strongest points about the book.

Rene Denfeld is a death penalty investigator, so she deals with death row clients as well as working with at-risk adolescents.  She has written a few other non-fiction books and articles in magazines.  She will most likely get much recognition for this novel because of the importance of the subject.  The Enchanted is fiction and deals with prison life differently than what is normally expected for this kind of work.  Her novel is already being hailed as possibly the best novel of 2014.  So, if you’ve read The Enchanted comment below and tell me what you thought about it?  Do you think it’s the best novel of 2014? Did you like the ending?