I read Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan years before, and Misha Vainberg there and Lenny Abramov in Super Sad True Love Story seem to be cut out from the same dough: slightly delusional man with a self-esteem problem who is desperate to show his capacity for love if only given a chaaaaaance (then mix in a good amount of this-is-what-it-means-to-be-Russian/Jewish/both). I think Shteyngart probably intended their (constant) self-deprecation and precious little dignity to come off as lovable and naive but these protagonists just ended up irritating me to the point that I’m reminded there really is a fine line between the pity-awww-pat-pat and pity-contempt feelings you can evoke from a reader when it comes to a love story. (I think in this case, it’s both Misha and Lenny’s dogged and total incapability of understanding that DUDE, she’s not worth it, please procure a grip. Also, Shteyngart’s descriptions of them and Shteyngart’s own pictures are uncannily similar. Or maybe it’s not meant to be uncanny at all?)
Luckily, Shteyngart’s prose always crackles and Super Sad has Eunice Park to save it. She’s not particularly more likable than Lenny – she’s shallow, flaky, and really self-absorbed, though she does change toward the end – but Shteyngart gets into her head and voice with such flair, almost pitch-perfect, that it’s hard to look away. The story is set in the near future but she sounds exactly like someone in her twenties right now, in a very “I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing half the time anyways, but I’m so glad that we can confide in each other, because the world sometimes feel so, like, I can’t even describe it” way and other nebulous post-midnight talks on the couch. (I‘m in my twenties right now so I’m, like, an AUTHORITY on this.) The fact that Shteyngart isn’t a young woman in her mid-twenties makes Eunice’s voice incredibly entertaining to me (so that’s what we sound like! How totally appalling.) Also she seems to have more sides to her personality than Lenny; while Lenny comes off as a caricature, Eunice seems a lot more human.
A really odd thing happens to the plot towards the end too. It’s pseudo-apocalyptic and it’s meant to be the catalyst that gets these characters to change but I just don’t buy it; it feels as though it was supposed to be foreshadowed earlier but didn’t come off that way, probably because it got a bit convoluted along the way. (No spoilers here.)
All in all, very entertained by Shteyngart’s vision of the future and by Eunice Park but I kind of wish Lenny was a bit more likable and the plot twist a little less out of the blue.