Saturday, February 4, 2012

Richard Laughs Along with a Few Passages From Absurdistan

[No serious spoilers, all quotes taken from first 50 pages or so]

Sure, there's going to be plenty of serious business to discuss with Absurdistan, if we're so inclined, but I suspect most of our next meeting will consist of laughing loudly (and drunkenly) at various passages.

There are a lot of different kinds of humor at work here, and most of it is pretty successful so far, it seems to me.

You've got the absurdity of bizarre and tragic situations presented in a deadpan fashion, as in the mutilation of poor teenage Misha's "khui" in a traveling circumsion-mobile, or the murder of Misha's father: "Who murdered the 1, 238th richest man in Russia?...I'll tell you who: Oleg the Moose and his syphilitic cousin Zhora."

You've got the merciless satire of social class/caste systems in both America and Russia. Here's Misha describing why he's popular among the barmaids in his favorite lower Manhattan dive bar: "I was known as a very generous tipper and would occasionally spring for an abortion."

But my personal favorite passages work in a lower-key register that's more wistful, illustrating Misha's longing for an America that's perpetually out of his grasp:

"Life for young American college graduates is a festive affair. Free of having to support their families, they mostly have gay parties on rooftops where they reflect at length upon their quirky electronic childhoods and sometimes kiss each other on the lips and neck."

The one recurring (meta) joke that's not working so well for me (at this point, anyway) is Shteyngart writing himself into the novel as Misha's foil, Jerry Shyteynfarb, a pompous professor who "managed to use his dubious Russian credentials to rise through the ranks of the Accidental creative writing department and to sleep with half the campus in the process" and who won acclaim for his debut novel which Misha calls The Russian Arriveste's Hand Job (a reference to Shteyngart's own debut The Russian Debutante's Handbook...get it?). It's playful and humorous, no doubt, but comes off to me as too showy somehow. Is our author insecure or defensive about his well-earned literary reputation? Perhaps he'll answer these questions in person at our next meeting if Courtneybelle and B-Suit keep tweeting him! We'd certainly enjoy buying a PBR for the funny son-of-a-bitch!

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