On Saturday, I spent the whole day sitting on the beach near the San Onofre nuclear plant, reading. The whole day was cool, and the morning, from 10 to 1 or so, was grey and misty, quite pleasant.
Just as the clouds pushed back offshore, the Goodyear blimp mosied on by, headed south at about 800 feet. I friended it on Facebook and said “hi” on its’ wall as it passed.
I was finishing Harold Dick’s memoir of his time working in Freidrichshafen on behalf of Goodyear-Zeppelin during the rise of the Nazis and had just finished the book when the ship flew by.
I then picked up Gary Shteyngart’s recent and widely-praised “Super Sad True Love Story” and read it through at one sitting. Much of the novel’s intended amusement factor stems from the author’s satirical visualization of virtualized socialization and workflow in the context of an apocalyptically dysfunctional state. I had heard the author in a couple of interviews during his book tour and he was incredibly funny, as were his readings from the book, so I cracked the book with high hopes.
Instead, although I have no specific grounds to critique the experience on, I was sort of disappointed. I did, it must be noted, read the whole thing in one sitting, without even tottering across the burning sands to take a potty break, so it is empirically inarguable that I found the book engaging. I even feel a sort of bemused guilt that I didn’t like it more.
I mean, come ON, highfalutin’ litt’ry dystopian satirical SF? Christ, it’s the genre I should be praying for, if I were to take religious precepts with any kind of seriousness at all. And I will say this: while Shteyngart leaves a couple plot points dangling, and acknowldges them as such in the context of the book, taken as SF, it’s pretty good.
But I guess I had formed the idea that I would bust a gut reading the book. I still feel like I should have – Shteyngart is merciless, showing little sympathy for his characters or their (our) culture, and this is my favorite style of comedy, the Coen Brothers at their most contemptuous or Dan Clowes in high, self-indulgent dudgeon.
So I don’t quite get it. Shteyngart should be my new BFF. But my strongest reaction to the book was a kind of bemusement; I couldn’t figure out why wasn’t really digging it. it was, um, OK. It was alright.
I mean, it’s tight, it’s fluent, it’s clearly the work of a really gifted writer, someone hitting on all cylinders, from command and craft of language to plotting and subtheme. But instead of getting excited, and laughing or yelling or crying or wanting to talk about the book once I finished reading it, I was sort of puzzled by my lukewarm reaction to it.
However, I will likely long remember reading it, because my traveling companions at the beach that day did not bring any sunscreen, and I was too absorbed in reading to think about it. The net result? Full-on second-degree burns on my legs, from above my knees to the middle of my feet. I’m learning a lot about burn care.