‘Super Sad True Love Story’: An Interview With Gary Shteyngart
New York-based satirist Gary Shteyngart has been getting a lot of press lately, thanks to the release of his third novel, Super Sad True Love Story, earlier this week.
While Shteyngart may write about New York, however, the fictional universe he creates in Super Sad True Love Story holds some important lessons for us all. His is a near-future world where people’s lives are ruled by credit ratings, everyone communicates in a virtual environment via handheld devices, and America stands on the brink of civil war - or at least a buyout by the Chinese. Is this starting to sound at all familiar?
If this seems a little bleak, then bear in mind that Shteyngart has already established himself as one of our foremost satirists - and funniest writers, period - with The Russian Debutante’s Handbook and Absurdistan. What might have been a nihilistic dystopia becomes uncomfortably laughable in his hands.
If you haven’t seen it already, check out the hilarious Super Sad True Love Story book trailer on YouTube, featuring cameos by Jeffrey Eugenides, Jay McInerney and actor James Franco. It’s certainly one of the most unusual book trailers to have hit the internet, and it proves that Shteyngart’s wit isn’t confined to old-fashioned paper media.
Seattle will also get to witness Shteyngart’s satirical humor first-hand next week, with readings and signings at the Sunset Tavern on August 2 (hosted by The Elliott Bay Book Company), and at Third Place Books on August 3. Check the bookstores’ websites for details.
We were able to ask Gary a few questions about his vision of the future before the release of Super Sad True Love Story.
Gary Shteyngart: I liked the fact that they were from different planets, Lenny from the old planet where books and privacy once existed, and Eunice from a brave new world.
DC: You mention Orwell’s 1984 early on in the book. To what extent was Orwell’s novel an inspiration or model for your own?
GS: I grew up on dystopian literature and film. I think I saw 1984 ten times in the theater. I even bought the Eurythmics soundtrack!
DC: In addition to 1984 you also mention futuristic movies like Logan’s Run and Soylent Green. Did you do much research into the near-future sci-fi genre?
GS: None! I saw each and every one of them as a kid as soon as we got a TV! I think I was approaching my teens at the time.
DC: What did you see happening around you that made you want to write this kind of dystopia?
GS: All “speculative fiction” is really about today. Who knows what’s really going to happen. All I can do is comment on how badly some things are going now.
DC: In Super Sad True Love Story you imagine a future where physical books are considered smelly and disgusting, and everyone reads in a digital format. What do you make of the current trend towards ‘ebooks’ and digitized libraries?
GS: Well, actually no one reads books in any format. My fear for the digital is that once a book becomes nothing more than a glorified file it will become even less an important part of our culture.
DC: Is it fair to say that Super Sad True Love Story is an epistolary novel for the 21st century?
GS: Well, I think we’re all writing epistolary novels every day now, through all the social media that’s constantly begging for our input. We’re also all photographers and filmmakers as well. It’s more than a little insane.
An excerpt from Super Sad True Love Story can be read on The New Yorker website, as part of their ’20 Under 40 Fiction’ feature.
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