Monday, May 16, 2011

I've Seen the Future--Again!

Recently, I found myself in the future through all three of Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy (the first now about to be filmed just a few miles from here!) Now I've just made my way through Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Love Story, and once again, the future looks bleak.

During grad school, I took a comp class in which the instructor used utopian and dystopian literature as a central focus of much of our writing, particularly the research. I remember reading Samuel Butler's Erewhon, published in 1872. Reading his view of the future--or Orwell's 1984--after the fact was thought-provoking, but provided a reminder that it's often not what we worry about that happens. It's what we weren't expected.

In Shteyngart's case, though, he certainly taps into current concerns--our Chinese debt for instance (the big gold yuan symbol on a heavy gold chain appears around necks of at least two characters), the effects of our wars in faraway places and our treatment of returning vets, and of particular concern to me--the replacement of text and talk (called verballing) with electronic options. Even the iPhone is mentioned as retro in the book. Everyone wears tinier and tinier devices called apparats, used for everything. Lenny Abramov, the main character, collects and yes, even reads, books. But when he attempts to read on a plane, people around him complain about the smell.

The extreme worship of youth is central in the novel. Lenny works for a company selling eternal youth--or life--to HNWI's (High Net Worth Individuals). The central love story examines Lenny's obsession with Eunice Park, a first generation Korean American twenty years his junior. Told through Lenny's diary and Eunice's electronic communications (some modern version of email and Facebook), the tale plays on the dramatic irony in the difference between contrast between Lenny's and Eunice's interpretation of events in their lives both small and large.

I guess I'll have to wait a little longer for a more positive view of a future with a sound America, a peaceful world--and a future in which books are safe, even valued.

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