Friday, 11 April 2014
LITTLE FAILURE by Gary Shtenygart
LITTLE FAILURE is a memoir that recounts the experience of a man who emigrated from Russia to the US. He bangs on and on about Russia. Guess what age he was when he left Russia? A) 40 B) 20 C) 7. Yes, SEVEN. He tells us about how he goes to a little liberal arts school to study creative writing, and you just KNOW that the professors there encouraged him to write about his 'interesting' background, to the point where he has virtually nothing else to say. It's totally fakey. I appreciate you need to find your USP in order to sell, but COME ON.
Let me give you a sample of how American he is: "St Petersburg is a sad place. Its sadness lies in a mass grave in its northeastern suburbs along with the 750,000 citizens who died of hunger and German shelling during the 871 day siege." Imagine saying something like that to someone actually from St Petersburg! What: your city is sad? What nonsense. On the basis of past atrocities, every single big city is sad, and Rome must be a non-stop funeral. It's just so ridiculous and exoticising I can barely stand it.
But its not even the immigrant bit that annoys me the most; it's the heavy layer of cheese over the entire enterprise. There is a big set-up at the beginning, about how the author has a panic attack in a New York book store when he sees a picture of some church, and this church is referenced over and over again, so you think something really major is coming: but no, his dad once him in the face there. That's it. That's the big reveal. Or try this melodramatic language: "On so many occasions in my novels I have approached a certain truth only to turn away from it, only to point my finger and laugh at it and then scurry back to safety. In this book, I promised myself I would not point the finger. My laughter would be intermittent. There would be no safety"
I don't know if I am being a huge hater, or what. Perhaps I am influenced by the fact that I just read a great memoir, A MAN IN LOVE, which comparison is making it most particularly painful.