This book reminds me of both Brothers by Yu Hua and The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, which Shteyngart mentions in the course of the story. It shares with these other two books a similar sense of confusion and well-meaning main characters hurtling towards disaster. I found Super Sad True Love Story to be pleasantly disorienting; it was just similar enough to present day to leave me in a mildly confused state about what was Shteyngart’s dystopia and what was the real world (I remain confident in my ability to tell fiction from reality, it’s just a mild surface fog through which I find it pleasant to rise in the course of my daily reveries).
I read a review that said that Shteyngart had used George W Bush’s America as a jumping-off point for the world of this book. While I did see similar abbreviations of personal liberties that reminded me of the Patriot Act, Shteyngart’s world extends well beyond the political. It took many elements of current society to their logical and often absurd conclusions, elements which include the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, our growing reliance on electronic media and social networks for interpersonal interaction, and the current US recession and housing market implosion. It’s also got a fatalistic edge to it. Even when a revolution does occur, those that take over are just the same as those who were in charge before. The new world is largely indistinguishable from the old. The only thing that’s changed is the names of the major players and the wording of their rhetoric.
I also see it as something of a cautionary tale about what could happen if we continue to rely more and more on the quick, opinion-based media that seems to be attending the demise of traditional reporting and print media. As a newly minted blogger and erstwhile Facebook addict, I took this warning very much to heart. Perhaps that’s why I stayed up until 3am wrestling with my temperamental booklight to finish this book.