The author, a scant year younger than me and a native of Russian, has created an American dystopia that feels like it's only days away. Our hero, Lenny Abramov, is one of the few readers left in a post-literate age and chronicles his life in what may be the last diary in the world. Lenny is well-off – he sells life-extension plans to the wealthy – but he's at least two large, social steps behind his media-savvy friends who broadcast their every move and interaction for the at-home audience.
Shteyngart's world is one of smart-phone aps that can rate the sex appeal, financial solvency and FAC-ability (form a community) of anyone and everyone in the room. Lenny has plenty of dough, and plenty of compassion, but he's not pretty. That's why he's thrilled when Eunice, a young Amer-Asian woman he met in Italy, decides to move in with him for a while.
Couple all this with a United States government that wants to deport any nonwhite family with bad credit, a global market and communication system that runs off a social-networking site called GlobalTeens and a cash-flow problem that requires China to call in all its markers, and you get quite a book.
Shteyngart wrote SSTLS mostly in first person, though the eyes of Lenny Abramov, but he puts us into other characters' heads courtesy of their GlobalTeen messages. Eunice (Euni-tard) writes to her friend Grillbitch, her sister Sallystar, to her first-generation Korean Mom and, near the book's end, to herself. Letting readers see the messages is a neat gimmick because it allows us to see Eunice changing over time while Lenny's perception of her remains the same. He's an unreliable narrator, but we know the truth.
“Lenny. Will he ever forgive me? I feel like a recycling bin sometimes, with all these things passing through me from one person to another, love, hate, seduction, attraction, all of it. I wish I were stronger and more secure in myself so that I could really spend my life with a guy like Lenny.” (SSTLS, page 298)
This, from a character who, at the start of the book, has few thoughts deeper than fashion and sex.
“What's up, twat? Missing your 'tard? Wanna dump a little sugar on me? JBF. I am so sick of making out with girls. BTW, I saw the pictures on the Elderbird alum board with your tongue in Bryana's, um, ear.” (SSTLS, page 27)
Shteyngart's themes intersect the ones I'm working with in my big W.I.P. We're both playing in a near future where neglect and high-tech are eroding the things that matter: art, beauty, love, nature and friendship. Shteyngart also deals with technology that is close enough today to recognize but just out of reach of consumers. Shteyngart's story really could just be a Tuesday away.