I finished reading Super Sad True Love Story today (I've already returned the book because I hadn't expected to blog about it, so forgive the absence of quotes to demonstrate what I'm talking about). For the most part, I enjoyed reading it. I understand it's satire -- which is something I still have trouble grasping even as English student, total fail -- which is why I was hesitant at first to publicly muse about it. However, I find myself compelled to write about it, if only to collect my thoughts.
As a dystopian novel, it's pretty brilliant. The population is obsessed with these äppäräti (computers on steroids) which rank you in the world: fuckability, attractiveness, etc etc etc. It seemed like a future stage in evolution for the people who are constantly on their social networks or buried away in their iPods. At one point, when the äppäräti is disconnected, a person commits suicide because he felt as if he couldn't really connect to anybody, that he looked out at the world and the human faces were not enough.
Kind of creepy. Kind of disturbing. Yet...I could see it happening. Maybe. It reminds me of a Victorian piece I read for class, actually, and how the author mourned that people didn't know each other in the big cities, that they were egotistically indifferent to their fellow humans (and we still criticize this aspect of the big cities even today).
The second element of satire I noticed was the quest for eternal youth in science. The protagonist worked for a company that would help their clients live forever through various processes that sounded very time consuming and expensive. And it reminded me so much of the magazines I see -- urging people to look younger, to make those wrinkles go away, color that grey hair away, to chuck everything that's human into the bin, as Rose would say. The author introduced an idea that I felt was not followed through enough: that as people underwent the processes that would make them younger, the constant rewiring of their brain synapses would change their personality.
Isn't that fascinating? Isn't that true on some sort of level -- especially if someone becomes obsessed with their appearance, their youth, their age?
I thought it was brilliant and I wish it had played a much more significant part in the text itself.
The third element of satire I noticed was how the American government was becoming positively totalitarian -- and nobody really seemed to care or notice (I especially liked the stabs to Right Wing Fox News). Everybody throughout the novel is too concerned with how fuckable they are, how much money they have, whether they are important to society to even wonder what the hell is happening around them. Self absorbent, the lot of them.
So as a dystopian novel, it works for me.
What does not work for me, was the representations of gender.
We get more of Lenny's story (the protagonist) than we get of Eunice (the token love interest). At first, he sees her as this pixie dream girl and then is shocked when he was mistaken about who she was, that she was broken and in need of fixing (this is a paraphrased quote).
This typical fare for most love stories that I've seen, I believe -- so I don't believe this is part of the satire.
Throughout the story, he muses how Eunice will raise his rankings (and she does -- he increases several hundred points in fuckability factor). This isn't really addressed in the story -- and yes, the reader sees that Eunice was using Lenny until someone better who had more to offer her (more for her to use) came along, but this is also so typical. How many stories have we seen where an average joe, usually unacttractive, is with a beautiful 80 pound woman? It's in almost every single sit com. How many stories have we seen a woman who is portrayed as simply being interested in shopping, material goods, and men who can help her achieve those things? All the time. How many stories have we seen a woman who has lousy self esteem, searching and searching for a man who will help her validate herself instead of just finding her own self-validation.
All. the fucking. time.
The only complexity that this story had to offer was that it was implied that one of the factors that influenced her decision was that the other man could help her protect her family more. But we don't really see her reasoning that out. The readers don't really get her side of the story -- not as much as Lenny's, that's for sure, and not enough to write her off as anything but typical.
Though Lenny was a product of his time, the readers could relate to more than that -- to his quest for more, for something of value and significance in the petty world in which he lived.
But with Eunice -- I didn't get that. I wanted more from her. I wanted her to be more. I'm tired of seeing women in love stories (even if they're super sad) as little more than objects of desire -- even if they're broken. And, somehow, it's supposed to absolve the guilt when we see that just as he uses her she's using him (and others) so that everybody can walk away with a cynical view of the world.
I don't mind cynicism -- I just like my cynicism to be complex.