Gary Shteyngart’s new novel, Super Sad True Love Story, is impeccably titled. Essentially a Romeo and Juliet-esque tale of star-crossed lovers, it chronicles several young people’s struggles with their difficult families as they navigate worlds of love and survival for which they are not prepared. The titular lovers mope through self-obsessed lives marked by depression, with only fleeting moments of intense, needy passion punctuating their moroseness. From the start, it is difficult to imagine a happy ending for these characters — and Shteyngart delivers a beautifully realized tale of the mistakes and maturations that constitute their fate.
The novel, which is set in the near future, takes place in a dystopic New York that liberal young adults living in large American cities will find easily recognizable and utterly believable. This is a world in which images have almost entirely replaced text; an ahistorical, super-consumerist American security state, and a depressing satire of the most crass and inhuman elements of early 21st-century America. Onto this scene stumble our lovers, both children of immigrants, both feeling horribly out of place and unfit to love, much less be loved. Shteyngart handles their chaotic environment and their turbulent inner worlds with aplomb. The story is ultimately another tale of love gone bad, and of characters too deeply and frustratingly flawed to help each other. Shteyngart has given us a touching and intelligent contemporary tragedy.