The time is the near future, as in possibly next week. Lenny Abramov, a thirty-nine year-old New Yorker and the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, is balding and visibly going grey, neither short nor tall at five foot nine, and going soft around the middle. He’s a salesman for Post-Human Services, a company which offers miraculous rejuvenation treatments and eternal life to HNWIs (high net worth individuals) and is obsessed with the fact that he can’t afford the treatments for himself.
America is now a police state and bankrupt, with the devaluated dollar pegged to the Chinese yuan. The only thing more important than being young and beautiful in this society is having a good line of credit, being an active consumer and being plugged into the latest model äppärät at all times. A futuristic smart-phone-like device which, presumably to reflect how much room it takes in people’s lives, also takes lots of room in the novel, the äppärät allows strangers to view each others personal information and history, including the all-important credit ranking, places of study, employment and residence, sexual preferences, and desirability score, actually referred to as fuckability score, in keeping with the general unsubtle attitude toward sex in this society. To wit, the latest fashions include nipple-less bras and ‘onionskin jeans’ which leave nothing to the imagination. The only thing that Lenny loves more than his 740 square-feet condo in downtown Manhattan and its wall of books—now out of print since nobody reads anymore—is Eunice Parks, a beautiful, slender, superficial and cruel twenty-four year-old Korean girl. Undeterred by the continuous jibes she throws his way about being a nerd and an unattractive loser, our sweet-natured Lenny is convinced that he can help Eunice become a kinder and gentler person simply by loving her with everything he’s got.
The book is told from their individual point of view, with Lenny’s diary entries alternating with transcripts of Eunice’s personal incoming and outgoing communications with her mother and sister, and also her best friend, whom she affectionately calls names most appropriately used in porno-speak, which is apparently the way all young people communicate with each other in a society where pornography has been completely assimilated into the mainstream. Things become dangerous when bands of LNWI (low net worth individuals) try to mount an uprising and are violently quashed by the national guard and the whole country enters in a state of emergency.
I’m having a hard time deciding what I thought about this book. There’s no question that it was entertaining. No question either that it was disturbing, as it was intended to be, with Shteyngart describing a future which is not that far removed from the realm of likely possibilities. It was slow going as far as the reading of it went, in large part because of the language used, with countless expressions and acronyms that are a common mode of communication in a visuals-driven society where ‘talking’ is now referred to as ‘verballing’. This book was given to me as a Christmas present along with a gift receipt in case I didn’t find it to be quite my thing, and take this as you will, but I’ve decided to take advantage of the store’s generous no-questions-asked return policy and exchange it for something that I’m likely to find ultimately more satisfying.