Tuesday, August 03, 2010

books to read

Not too many of us read books any more, and even those who do, I'm convinced, are reading fewer of them.

However, here's a new book I think just about everybody who reads is going to want to enjoy. I heard of it for the first time last evening when I saw an ad for it on the inside back cover of the new (August 2) New Yorker. Five minutes later I opened the Seattle Times and my eye fell on a review of it. I read that, then turned on the radio to listen to NPR's Fresh Air, and Terry Gross's interview subject was -- you guessed it -- Gary Shteyngart.

He's an interesting guy; brought here by his parents at age seven from the disintegrating Soviet Union -- this was 1989 -- and enrolled in what he calls a "horrible" Hebrew School in Queens. The protagonist of "Super Sad" has a lot in common with Gary Shteyngart.

Needless to say, I haven't read it yet, but I can't wait. The novel sounds to be a narrative of a dysfunctional romance set against the background of a crumbling, chaotic but nevertheless highly oppressive near-future USA. One reviewer on Amazon says:

Everyone is plugged in to their "apparats," mobile devices that tether them to their cyber realities. As pedestrians walk the streets of New York City their credit ratings continually appear on poles alongside the sidewalks. The USA is mired in debt but the consumerist orgy is never ending. China completely owns us. We produce nothing.

Is this sounding familiar? The National Guard has set up checkpoints everywhere. These soldiers are all from the south. Racism and fear are rampant. Citizens are asked to pretend that none of this is happening.

The ruling political authority in this day-after-tomorrow America is the Bi-Partisan Party, an entity which, while it doesn't exist formally yet, already describes the reality of the situation. Dystopian near-future writing is usually a sly caricature of the present, and a satire on it.

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