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Gary Shteyngart: Will he be shticky tonight?

August 9, 2010 |  1:38 pm

Garyshteyngart_glassesIn the dystopian society Gary Shteyngart envisions in “Super Sad True Love Story,” his new novel, books are dubbed “printed bound media artifacts” and derided as “smelly.”  They’re mostly used as doorstops. 

The 38-year-old author, who is in today's LA Times, will be in Los Angeles this week to read from and discuss his new book.  He’ll appear at 7 p.m. Monday at Vroman’s Bookstore  and  at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Skirball Cultural Center, where reservations are recommended.

Other readings have drawn crowds; perhaps it’s because Shteyngart is known for his animated, silly personality.  The book’s promotional video offers a taste of Shteyngart’s humor.  In it, he acts like an unintelligent Russian immigrant, affecting an exaggerated accent, frolicking with a dachshund and making comments like “I can’t read!” while holding a book upside down.

Shteyngart, who immigrated from Russia to New York at age 7, has seen his work enter the contemporary immigrant literature canon.  Writer and scholar Ilan Stavans, a professor at Amherst College, included a story by Shteyngart in the anthology he edited, “Becoming Americans: Four Centuries of Immigrant Writing.” Stavans described Shteyngart’s work in an email:

Gary Shteyngart's oeuvre is about excess and nothing speaks better about America today than excess. His post-Cold War immigrant narratives are in debt with the tradition of Borsht Belt humor. Irreverent, obsessive, and cartoon-like, high-brow and pop multi-culti collide in them. Nothing is sacred! His immigrants suffer, yes, but oh how much we enjoy their missteps while sorting out the angst. Unlike Junot Diaz's sex-obsessed Dominican boys, Chang-Rae Lee's agonizing Asians, or Jumpha Lahiri's Chekhovian menagerie from India, Shteyngart loves to deflate Russian émigrés' super-egos. If he has a flaw, it is that jokes become endless, labyrinthine plots; following them is sometimes like reading discarded Jackie Mason routines that were poorly translated by an autistic Soviet spy. His new book is a departure, proof that Shteyngart is all about experimentation. In it he puts a yarmulke on Big Brother's "groyse kup," imagining a menacing New York future of New York (did New York ever had a rosy future?) as a Mel Brooks variation.
Of course, Los Angeles has its own community of Russian émigrés. Will they respond to Shteyngart’s Borscht Belt-isms as seen through the lens of a dystopian near-future? Or is he speaking to a hipster literati with different frames of reference? Only people who make it to both his readings in town will know for sure.

-- Daina Beth Solomon

Photo: Gary Shteyngart. Credit: Brigitte Lacombe

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