Alex Shephard in Full Stop:
Immigrants today, Shteyngart tells me, “move back and forth all the time and live in a kind of limbo.” In Super Sad True Love Story, his latest novel, all of the characters — not just immigrants — live in this limbo. Permanently wedded to äppäräts – a somewhat more sinister descendant of the iPhone – the characters struggle to relate to one another and, living in a world in which their personality and “fuckability” are constantly and publicly being rated by others. In this sense, Shteyngart perhaps more than any other contemporary writer understands the appeal of social networking: it promises the connection that we crave, but never quite delivers.
I spoke with Gary about the role technology plays in Super Sad True Love Story, and our lives, the state of the novel, and the Real Estate section of The New York Times during a recent stop on his book tour in Philadelphia.
You’ve said that you think of yourself as being an entertainer as much as an intellectual. Can you talk about that distinction? And how did that idea of yourself develop?
It used to be that novelists wanted to entertain. Huckleberry Finn: helluva read. Portnoy’s Complaint, a big monologue aimed at an unsuspecting audience: hilarious. If it wasn’t funny, who gave a shit? Some dude has problems with his mom? Whatever. So that’s always at the basis of what I’m trying to do. I don’t want literature – literary fiction – to be ghettoized, to be this tiny little thing that’s only read by the people who write it. That’s the worst thing – poetry is basically already in that condition. But I don’t know – I don’t see too many great things on the horizon. More and more people work in academia like I do and it’s becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.