I am mostly impressed with Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story. Its reflection on and send-up of our current media-obsessed, gadget-driven culture seems a clear indictment of where we are headed if we continue in this direction, but I feel the author let a few things slip through the cracks. For instance, although Shteyngart addresses the issues of government contracting in its current form, it is highly improbable that a foreign corporation (Staatling-Wapachung Corporation) would ever win the sort of contract with the military he implies. The best example I can think of is the Air Force tanker plane contract, which eventually went to Boeing over McDonald-Douglas because of the latter’s use of an Airbus airframe. Even though the planes and parts would be constructed and assembled in the US, the association with a European manufacturer doomed the bid (though they won initially). Although it is possible an illiterate populace may allow a consolidation of government into one party, I find it more dystopian than real possibility.
Another large issue overlooked in the novel is a common problem among high-powered economies, and that is the aging populace. Japan, China, most of Western Europe, and the US are facing an aging population. In these economies which offer social security and support systems, the numbers of people drawing from them will soon eclipse the population depositing into them. This has been a large sticking point in US politics for a long time now. Although Shteyngart mentions the dissolution of Social Security in the US, the same problems exist in China, and he does not address that. Instead he deploys the country as the invading debt collector menace. Although China does hold a large amount of our national debt, they also have their own problems which will likely prevent them from implementing such a soft “invasion.”
The tactic to scare readers, though, is successful, and especially so as the backdrop, as the ineffectual, illiterate, superficial “Media” culture we have a real chance of falling into, of the love story at the center of the novel. Why Shteyngart chose China as opposed to Russia, India, or some other emerging and vital economy is hard to understand, except that it is portrayed in this way on our current national stage.