You can't help but love Lenny Abramov. It's not just because he's the hapless, hopelessly romantic, hilarious protagonist in Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story (Random House, 352 pages, $26). It's because, when you read Shteyngart's novel, you are Lenny Abramov.
Shteyngart's caustic satire brings us into a world where America is completely illiterate and on the brink of collapse, its citizens interested only in "verballing" or "scanning for data" on mobile devices that stand in for real communication skills. Lenny, a 39-year-old book lover of Russian descent, is an outsider in this world, seemingly the last intelligent adult capable of experiencing real human emotions. He falls desperately in love with Eunice Park, a 24-year-old Korean girl with a troubled past and a commitment problem. She's a total product of her shallow, politically upturned environment; he's from another time.
Lenny is such a lovable character because as we navigate the horrific but also humorous world he lives in, we can immediately relate to him. Shteyngart throws his readers into the story in such a way that they instantly feel as lost as Lenny, trying to make their way through this dystopian world. Characters connect using "äppäräti" (those essential mobile devices) and FACing ("Forming a Community," or using an äppärät to determine your status among people in the immediate vicinity in terms of "Fuckability" and "Personality"). Readers are left aching, like Lenny, for something real.
And they get it. Shteyngart's story is part 1984, part Lolita, peppered with prose that reveals Shteyngart's Russian heritage. Lenny's musings and descriptions are heartbreakingly real, and it's this fact that saves Shteyngart's story from being a two-dimensional social commentary. It's sometimes hilarious (Lenny and his friends frequent a bar called Cervix) and sometimes poetic, but at its core, Super Sad True Love Story is just that—a great love story, and a great novel.
And although Shteyngart's satire doesn't assault you, it does make you think, especially when Lenny points out that "every moment our brains and synapses are being rebuilt and rewired with maddening disregard for our personalities, so that each year, each month, each day we transform into an utterly unfaithful iteration of our former selves." Shteyngart's vision is frighteningly true, one that will make you pat yourself on the back when you finish his "printed, bound media artifact"—er, book.
Gary Shteyngart reads at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Wednesday, Aug. 4. Free.