RIGA - Did you read the critics tripping over themselves to praise Gary Shteyngart’s third novel, Super Sad True Love Story (Random House, 2010)? The reviews were unanimous; the reviews heralded literary stardom! The reviews all referred to Shteyngart’s polished “satire.”
And it won’t take a degree in comparative literature to see just how potent the potential for this satire is; just look at the titles of his previous novels: Absurdistan: a Novel and The Russian Debutante’s Handbook (both fermented in the success of Super Sad True Love Story).
If your curiosity is piqued, it’s possibly because you’re one of many who might occasionally indulge in some light-hearted Soviet-era bashing; plus, you’ve just inferred from some book titles there’s a writer out there to feed your guilty pleasure - an enabler, a pusher. But not so fast!
Let’s take a moment to remember where comedy and satire part ways. Comedy, too often, is gift-wrapped entertainment: sheer and sedating reassurance. Satire is a darker art. Satire ridicules, exaggerates, abuses. Satire holds a mirror all the while, wielding shame to usher societal change. The latter, reviewers agree (this writer included), is where Shteyngart excels.
Born Igor, Shteyngart emigrated with his parents to the U.S. from Leningrad (he calls it ‘St. Leningrad’ or ‘Leninsburg’) when he was seven years old: long enough for the weight of a Soviet-era upbringing to have been ingrained into his psyche.
It’s this small-ish detail that differentiates Shteyngart’s prose from that of other contemporary American writers, those better known for lamenting their audiences’ dwindling attention spans, hyper-technological consumerist societies, and drone strikes.
Shteyngart’s latest, Little Failure: A Memoir, is the author’s first foray into non-fiction (his mother nicknamed Igor “Little Failure” after he graduated from a prestigious Liberal Arts college), though its tone promises much of the same heavy-weight, truth-intoning satire.
Gary Shtenyngart, Little Failure: A Memoir (Random House, 2014)