Wednesday, September 7, 2011

CB # 21 - 23 Post-Modern Love Stories

Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shteyngart
A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
The Rehearsal by Eleanor Catton

                Just to start, I'm sorry I've abandoned this blog for most of the summer. I've been reading all summer, but I've had a lot of problems figuring out what to write about the books I've read. Since it's been a while and I have a huge amount to move through, I'm just going to review my summer books by theme. This grouping is going to make the least sense and I know that, so I figured I'd get it out of the way  first. It's full of post-modern love stories, and I consider these ones post-modern because of the way that they play around with narrative.

Super Sad True Love Story
                Lenny Abramov is a 39 year old schlub in love with 24 year old Eunice Park. He’s the child of  a Russian father who slaves as a janitor, while she’s the daughter of an abusive Korean potierit. The question is: does Eunice Park see anything in Lenny?
                Super Sad True Love Story is set in the near future. America is on the brink of financial collapse. People don’t write any more, they “verbal” or send images. Everyone is constantly being rated on their appearance and what they’ve revealed about themselves online, and sexuality has been reduced to a cheap, crappy version of pornography. There is no such thing as privacy, everyone transmits everything about themselves. Girls wear transparent jeans and the English language seems reduced to obscenities. Through all of this Lenny keeps on writing in his diary and keeps on reading books, even though they are seen as smelly artifacts of a bygone era.

                The novel is told from both character's perspectives, Lenny through his journal, and Eunice through her emails to her family and friends. Lenny is a bit of a sad-sack, and doesn't have enough perspective on life to really see understand the destruction of liberty that is happening all around him. Although Eunice is obsessed with looking good, she doesn't have the same need to be remembered for posterity, and her communications seem to have more value since she is trying to reach out to people.

                I’m not one hundred percent certain how I’m supposed to see Lenny. I’m much closer to Eunice in age, and I understand her initial disgust with him. They meet in Rome, where Lenny is trying to find rich clients who want to live forever using Post-Human Services.  Lenny falls for Eunice immediately, without any real reason other than her beauty, oh and the fact that she’s been abused by her father. Apparently that’s appealing to Lenny.

               But there's still something about this book that got to me. It's about how love is always possible, it's about the importance of liberty and although it is a super sad love story, there's something really appealing about everyone, even as they disgust you.
(ETA: As mentioned in the comments, this book is really, really funny, however, I also found it really sad too)

A Visit From the Goon Squad
                My friend called this a collection of short stories, and I sort of have to agree. Each chapter is told by a different narrator, and he or she tells about a key moment in his or her life. The stories connect, the same characters reappear throughout the stories, but there isn't a cohesive narrative to this novel. It doesn't matter too much, since it's all about the moments in between. It's sweet, lovely and confusing. The stories switch directions and flip back and forth in time. When I first heard about this book (everyone and their dog has reviewed it and loved it), I was told that it focused on the music industry, and it does, but that's not what it's really about. It's about using music as a theme to allow the tidbits of people's lives to show through. Characters work in music industry, or tried to be musicians, or just love the silences in a song, but it doesn't add up to more than that.

                The problem for me was that each chapter helps you understand the current character, but you, the reader, still want more information.You want the before and the after, but all this book gives is a few fleeting moments. It's all middles, but not even complete middles. It's a beautiful book, but it doesn't leave you satisfied. It leaves you craving more, which is probably a good thing.

The Rehearsal
                A young girl has a relationship with her high school music teacher. He argues that it was completely consensual. It's probably a familiar sounding story, something that you read once in the newspaper, or in your favourite news blog, but it has nothing to do with your life. The Rehearsal is about the person who reads about it in the paper and forgets that real people were involved, and it's also the other girls who find out about the affair, and it's consequences for them.

                The main characters are three girls who go to the same (female) saxophone teacher: Bridget who rather bores the teacher, Isolde, the younger sister of  Victoria who had the affair, and Julia, who might be a way for the saxophone teacher to relive and hopefully fix her own mistakes. When these girls talk to their saxophone teacher they reveal their fears and desires, and they are both mystified and drawn to Victoria, because they cannot understand how it happened.

                On the other side of the novel is Stanley, who has started his first year at a drama school. The students are supposed to create an original play, and they decide to write it about a major news story, the girl and her teacher. As the novel winds its way through these characters' lives, their stories become more and more interconnected.

                I liked this book but I also found it really unsettling. We never find out much about Victoria, and her motives always are unclear. Other character's try to figure out what happened, but there is no way for them to know the truth. Also, characters regularly speak theatrically, even when there isn't a stage in sight. All subtlety is striped bare and people say intense truths to each other, with no consequences, or even a reaction. It's almost as if the reader gets to read the truth without any of the politeness and camouflage of ordinary conversation. 


  1. Super Sad True Love Story is probably my favourite book of the year. The characters were spot on and Eunice as an example of modern day youth works as a brilliant rebuttal to any number of "kids these days" complaints. Also, you didn't mention how absolutely hilarious it is.

  2. I edited it to mention that it is really funny. I actually read the book over a month ago, so the humour isn't what's stayed with me. Instead it's the sadness, which is probably why my reviews a bit depressing.