June 29th, 2007

reading, activism, writing

Book #29: Absurdistan, by Gary Shteyngart

What happens when you hate the protagonist more than he hates himself? Perhaps I should rephrase that. As long as Shteyngart wrote about a man, so aware of his fat that his inner monologue pulsated with little else, I didn't believe in the character.

Many of us are overweight, but we don't think about it every minute of every day as Misha does: "I bit into the sturgeon kebab, filling my mouth with both the crisp burnt edges and the smooth mealy interior. My body trembled inside my leviathan Puma tracksuit, my heroic gut spinning counterclockwise, my two-scoop breasts slapping against each other. ...My body fell into a rocking motion like the religious people rock when they're deep in the thrall of their god. I finished off the first kebab and the one after that, my chin oily with sturgeon juices, my breasts shivering as it they'd been smothered with packets of ice."

This is early in the book, but I heard more about this man's fat than I would have working in a rendering plant. I get it. We're supposed to find him disgusting, funny, and pitiful. And the character was. But, I felt hit over the head and distracted from what was a funny, weird, and ultimately almost touching tale of Russian people un-moored from Soviet reality.

It's worth the read. I kept at it until I was so blistered by the faux-fat talk that I just skimmed over those parts without pausing wonder why Shteyngart wrote it that way.

Gary, if you're reading this, please share. And don't just tell me "It's supposed to be absurd. What did you expect from a book titled Absurdistan?"

X posted: Blog, 50 book challenge.