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I’m the Man in the Box

November 20, 2011

Since this is my last post (and an unnecessary one, I realized, since I posted entries with my YouTube curation project & my expertise assignment), I decided to go outside my Audioslave box and go with an Alice in Chains-titled entry; the song just happens to be entitled “Man in the Box.”

Anyway, enough BS’ing.  To be perfectly blunt, I did not like “Super Sad True Love Story.”  At all.  In fact, I was turned off from it at the very beginning.  I read the first 3-5 pages of the book and after reading Lenny write “I’m going to live forever because I met a woman.  Fuck you all.” (in essence, at least), I disliked him through the rest of the book.  And after meeting Eunice, I didn’t like her, either.  I think part of my problem with the book starts at the very beginning: the world we see in the novel is rather different than ours.  Normally, I have no problem with this (I mean, srsly, if I can play games like Castlevania: Lords of Shadow & the two Mass Effect games and be cool with those worlds, I have no problem with fictional worlds), but my issue is that Shteyngart doesn’t establish this world at the very beginning.  So, to read about Lenny peddling immortality (like the Pardoner in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales selling holy “relics”) is, to me, absurd.  Last I checked, nothing was eternal, not even the universe since, because of its expansion & future acceleration of expansion, it will eventually tear itself apart (this is called the Big Rip, if I remember right).  But, don’t worry about the Big Rip; that won’t happen for another at least 15 billion years.

However, I digress.  My point here is that the world in Shteyngart’s novel is not introduced to us; we’re dropped into the novel in medias res.  Again, I have no problem with walking into a story in medias res…so long as the world is eventually explained.  My memory may be fuzzy since I read the book a few days ago (thanks, real life, for messing me up), but I don’t remember the world really being established except being given the context through events in the story.  As an example, we see Lenny in the opening ‘chapter’ at the American Embassy in Roma, going through the whole thing with the otter (I don’t remember what the program was called); through this event, we see that the America of this book’s world places a high value on credit score (economies blow, apparently) in addition to being concerned with who citizens abroad associate with…or who they associate with, in general.  Thinking in terms of Ryan’s definition of narrative (we keep coming back to her, don’t we?), can we really say that Shteyngart establishes a world that undergoes changes either by accident or by direct human action?

That question is something we can discuss tomorrow night.  I’ll try and get comments posted by tonight and if not tonight, then before class tomorrow.  Anyway, this blog was rather fun; I might keep updating this every now-and-then.  So, until next time!


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  1. janastasiawhydra permalink

    I found it interesting that you discussed the “Big Rip,” and nothing will survive it, despite Lenny’s assertiveness that he’ll survive even that. Other than that, I whole-heartedly agree with your assessment on how the audience/reader is dropped into the middle of a future or alternate reality future of the world without an indication on how we got there. Could this be a social novel, a “mind-book” if you’ll humor me, where the audience must actively engage with the novel to understand how we get from here and now to there and that? Now to try and answer your question, in my opinion, this may be Shteyngart’s novel, but it’s Lenny and Eunice’s stories. Towards the end of the novel, Lenny expresses he never wrote for an audience, but someone stole his ideas and published them along with Eunice who also wasn’t writing to be read by a mass-public. If Lenny and Eunice were only writing for themselves (or immediate friends and family), why would they need to establish a world? Afterall, everyone is already living in that world. However, didn’t there world change? Between pages 237 – 248, when the Chinese pulled out, the American economy collapsed, people were assassinated in a mass-murder, technological communication went down, and, finally, this marked the beginning of a new America which was going to be owned by foreign countries and major cities were going to become “lifestyle hubs.” Doesn’t this fit in Ryan’s “world-change is narrative” theory because Lenny’s, Eunice’s, and everyone else world did change when the Chinese quit their U.S. investment?

  2. Melissa permalink

    I liked Janastasia’s comment that they were writing for themselves and already knew the world they were living in. I also wonder if the reason for not describing it is because this book is set in a not-so-distant-future. I think we are supposed to take in the world and interpret what we see and how we may have devolved into such a world. The whole live forever idea bugged me too, but Lenny is a glorified salesman that has sold his salespitch to himself, so while we know it is farfetched, he is attached to it. Afterall, don’t we learn at the end of the novel that it turns out the product didn’t really work with Joshie’s fate?

  3. As you all point out, this “novel” certainly does not fit the narrative construct we’re all familiar with… The admission of the text’s publication from an outside source (revealed at the end of the text) seems to solidify this point, but does this knowledge cause us (the reader) to revisit the text’s dominant logical construct. In other words, is this new logic a database construct (albeit in print)? If so, can we even call it a narrative (as Ryan defines a narrative)? I wonder how this work’s structure will fit into our on-going discussion about narratives in the digital age… The printed “platform” seems an odd/ironic match for this “story” – Steve, would you have preferred the text as a digital story? I think I would have – however, the “story’s” website ( did not do much to deepen my appreciation for “the story”… I’m sure we’ll explore these sort of ideas tonight.

  4. I think this is more of an issue of narrative convention. There seems to be this strange disconnect within the class between prose that presents a somewhat de-emphasized plot/story and the narrative angle of digital media. I’ve seen tweets/blogs and heard class comments arguing for counting new(er) media/non-lingual artifacts as narrative, yet some of the same people want to discount Shteyngart’s novel. I kind of like that we’re dropped into this world without an explanation. As the events unfold, we’re given a pretty decent sense of the world on display. The story presents a change in the situations of the characters, if not the world. The framing of the entries as a diary or as correspondence sets them up as stories narrated/told by these characters. Compare this with, say, Elephant, were we’re presented with something that just happens.

  5. I, too, feel like the dystopia is less explained than others because of the “close” nature of the problems within the novel. All of the problems (developments) in the novel are ones that we could reasonably see happening in our future if we continue on the same sociopolitical trajectory. I wasn’t a fan of Lenny, either, but I suspect that is because of Shteyngart’s portrayal of his characters. As I said in my blog (which remains unfinished for the moment), I don’t think that the “Super Sad True Love Story” is the state of America rather than the relationship between Lenny and Eunice.

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