Majoring in Images

Jul 7, 2011 by

Peter Wood – Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story was picked by many critics as one of the best novels of 2010. It is set in a near-future New York, as the United States collapses into a Greek-style debt crisis, futile military exploits, domestic repression under the rule of the “

 

 

,” and corporate autocracy. That sounds grim enough, but Shteyngart is mainly a satirist, and the novel is not so much an extrapolation of our economic and political anxieties as it is portrait of our cultural descent.

The love story of the title is between 39-year-old Lenny Abramov and 24-year-old Eunice Park, who appears to Lenny as “a very young Asian Audrey Hepburn.” Lenny is a reader. One of his friends calls him the “last reader on earth,” and his Lower East Side co-op holds his prize possession: a wall of books. Eunice is appalled at the sight. She is a graduate of Elderbird College in Massachusetts (a stand-in for Mount Holyoke, perhaps) where she majored in ‘images” and minored in “assertiveness.”

Lenny anticipates her prejudice—“that terrible calumny of the new generation: that books smell,” and prepares for Eunice’s arrival by spraying his library with Pine-Sol Wild Flower Blast. Eunice appreciates the gesture.

In one of the book’s small masterpieces, Eunice, caught between wonder and disgust, tells her girlfriend about watching Lenny read a book:

Anyway, what kind of freaked me out was that I saw Len reading a book. (No, it didn’t SMELL. He uses Pine-Sol on them.) And I don’t mean scanning a text like we did in Euro Classics with that Chatterhouse of Parma I mean READING. He had this ruler out and he was moving it down the page very slowly and just like whispering little things to himself, like trying to understand every little part of it. I was going to teen my sister but I was so embarrassed I just stood there and watched him read which lasted for like HALF AN HOUR, and finally he put the book down and I pretended like nothing happened. And then I snuck a peek and it was that Russian guy Tolsoy [sic] he was reading. I thought Ben was really brain-smart because I saw him streaming Chronicles of Narnia in that café in Rome, but this Tolsoy [sic] was a thousand pages long BOOK, not a stream, and Lenny was on page 930, almost finished.

via Majoring in Images Peter Wood.

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