Friday, August 06, 2010

Shteyngart streams an exceptional "Story"

We're all familiar with the book review cliche` that goes something like "you won't want it to end".  Usually, that's empty praise probably meant to say much more than it does.  But I'm having trouble moving beyond that thought when I consider Gary Shteyngart's new novel "Super Sad True Love Story".  Partly because it doesn't putter and blather on like so many novels (breaking the tape at what feels like a scant 330 pages).  Largely because few writers exhibit chops like those spread throughout this novel.  But mainly because Shteyngart creates a palette of characters who become that rarest of rarities in good art.  Totally fictional persons that, while certainly drawn from someplace real, come to life all their own.  Characters whose humanity shocks and intrigues.  Ones who you spend the time surrounded by while reading this story.  That's what you won't want to end.

I'm not giving anything away when I say that this book is written to not beg a sequel.  No irritating trilogy will blossom from this solid, stand alone platform.  What you read here is what you'll get.  Although Shteyngart will surely have much, much more work for us to read in the future.  He's under 40 - too often being pegged with that fascinating but silly list of "20 Under 40" from The New Yorker.  So whatever debate may come from the success or missed opportunity for greater exposure in this novel, he's got more to give, I'm sure.

One important side note about Shteyngart is how well he proved himself performing in front of an impressive crowd at the Sunset Tavern in Ballard this past Monday.  These fans were ready to laugh along with Shteyngart's reading and discussion of this truly sad, stinging book hung on the tenderhooks of our shared modern human foibles.  He knocked it out of the park - it was more like stand-up than a reading.  And when I watched him interact afterward with others before I spoke with him briefly while getting book signed, I could see that he actually likes interacting with people.  So I'm not at all reluctant to give his new novel a rare, true full A rating.  Not everyone will love it.  But lots and lots of people should read it.  Thereafter, discuss which of the words in his strange but appropriate title had the most impact.  Let me know what you think, if you're so inclined.  Rock on.

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