To open, I wanted to vent a genre-related concern… What else? In response to some previously enumerated concerns, I think Shteyngart isn’t writing romance or necessarily just satire. I think he’s writing really competent (possibly good) science fiction.
It is the duty of science fiction to show us how our world would change in the face of technological/scientific alterations. Sometimes these alterations are sharply noticeable and immense (e.g. faster-than-light space travel, sentient nonhumanoid races, multiverses, etc.) and other times, they’re just probable extensions of the technologies and sciences available to us today (e.g. cloning, genetic engineering, electronic communications, etc.). Super Sad True Love Story falls into the second category, and the only thing holding me back from calling Shteyngart’s novel good science fiction is purely personal: Lenny Abramov gets on my nerves something awful. What’s worse—I think that’s a sign of solid writing.
Let me explain.
Sequoia brings up the element of race in the book, something I also noticed, specifically in reference to Latinos, those who Lenny might refer to as the “vaguely Hispanish” (80). As I can remember, the first inkling we get of any sort of Spanish-speaking people or Lenny’s awareness of them does not come in the form of an actual person or community; it comes in the form of “a poster showing a plucky little otter in a sombrero trying to jump onto a crammed dinghy under the tagline ‘The Boat Is Full, Amigo” (7). This “Mexican otter” immediately sets the tone for Lenny’s own perception of various minorities in the world of äppäräts and chemical immortality and credit poles. Latinos, though physically present in the neighborhoods that Lenny’s parents drove through to feel better when he was a boy, are essentially in a state of para-invisibility. This effect is furthered by Noah Weinberg’s repeated use of Spanish slang during his webcast; much like the movie Blade Runner, the English of the urban future contains elements of various languages. This change, amusingly enough, doesn’t denote any kind of improvement in race relations. It’s just an aggressive form of appropriation for profit–in this case, the rendering cooler of Noah Weinberg through hip-sounding slang.
This para-invisibility that Latinos and blacks and other minorities have in Super Sad True Love Story is, in my opinion, the rather impressive manifestation of Shteyngart trying to write with a sort of futuristic verisimilitude. In the world that Lenny inhabits, he doesn’t have to deal with groups disenfranchised by the privatized surveillance state he works for. Does that make sense?
Abramov’s racism has even stronger ties to the privatized system of government that he supports, but I’m running out of room in this post, so I’ll save those observations for class, but I’ll list them briefly below:
- The commodification of abuse (e.g. Lenny’s history of dating abused women, the abused woman running a multimedia broadcast of her abuse flashbacks)
- The racialized commodification/diminution of the Asian female body (e.g. Lenny makes a point of repeatedly describing Eunice as small, he does the same for Vishnu’s girlfriend, Grace)