Monday, February 06, 2012

133. SHORT STORY MONDAY: Lenny Hearts Eunice by Gary Shteyngart

In this short story Shteyngart takes a look at a near-futuristic America where diet, health, technology, credit (or finances) all matter, through the awkward or mismatched relationship between Eunice Parker and Leonard (Lenny) Abramovic. In this near-futuristic world individuals are rapidly evolving (have already become Post Humans different from humans) and the workers at the Post-Human Services have been told to
keep a diary, to remember who we were, because at every moment our brains and synapses are being rebuilt and rewired with maddening disregard for our personalities, so that each year, each month, each day, we transform into different people, utterly unfaithful iterations of our original selves, of the drooling kids in the sandbox. 
But not Lenny. Lenny had just returned from Rome to his bio-tech company that deals in selling immortality to High Net Worth Individuals and where he works as Life Lovers Outreach Coordinator (Grade G). In Rome, Lenny had given in to all sorts of indulgences, consuming all sorts of wine and food: pig jowls of the bucatini all'amatriciana, plate of spaghetti with spicy eggplant, rabbit drowned in olive oil. Unconcerned about his health in a world where humans have scientifically evolved to Post-Humans where youth is all that is needed to survive, where thirty-nine is old, Lenny's return to his New York office was met with a demotion; because he reminds the people of death. Because he wasn't looking younger and for a company that sells immortality his state is bad for business. In fact, his friend had just been sacked for turning forty and perhaps looking old. In this world that Shteyngart described people are always monitoring their adrenal stress index, insulin levels, methylation and homocysteine levels, testosterone and estrogen levels and for employees their results are always screaming from screens including their moody + stress indicators, 'which was always supposed to read "positive/playful/ready to contribute" but which, with enough input from competitive co-workers, could be changed to "one moody betch today" or "not a team playa this month."' 

Through this, Shteyngart provides a funny almost comic look at recent American culture of diet-watching, body-weighing, credit-rating, body-building, selling-anything and more. Individuals take Niacin tablets, supplements, indulge in de-stressing, and breathing-right activities all to look fit and live forever. Everything that is to be done must contribute towards a healthy life so that even love is thought of in terms of boosting the biochemical compositions of the body. When Lenny told Joshie, his forever-young boss, that he has thinks he is in love, Joshie said:
It's great for pH, ACTH, LDL, whatever ails you. As long as it's good, positive love, without suspicion or hostility.
Lenny is sex-starved, probably, and had met the beautiful Eunice at the de Tonino bar in Rome. There they had struck acquaintance, Eunice never thought much about it but Lenny was all for it including having some romantic ideas when Eunice took him home but nothing materialised. Per Eunice's letters to an unidentified Precious Panda Lenny was old, not in the league of gentlemen she would date, a sloven who do not even know the proper way to brush his teeth or button his shirt, a non-modern person who loves reading 'Tolesoy' instead of streaming; very much unlike her former boyfriend Ben whom she left because he was too good for her. So that there was a great divergence between what Eunice and Lenny thought of each other. Yet Lenny never gave up and kept on writing her to entice her. Eunice finally decided to get closer to her parents in America and having nowhere to live went to live with Lenny and a relationship developed from that though Eunice was still her snobbish and 'modern' self.

The American ethic mostly seen in trade and commerce was profoundly portrayed in this story. One reason for Lenny's demotion, aside his health, and perhaps the most important or only reason, was his poor sales record when he went to Rome, selling to only one person in that year. But Lenny is running out on cash because of poor management by his brokers who had invested his funds in loss-making companies and can no longer afford his beta-dechronification necessary for him to look young. Back in New York and going back on his health-regiment Lenny almost became his pre-Rome self and earned his seat back at the office. He also got a client who wanted to buy eternity for himself and his children and Lenny was explaining what he was doing
I painted him a three-dimensional picture of millions of autonomous nanobots inside his well-preserved squash-toned body, extracting nutrients, supplementing, delivering, playing with the building blocks, copying, manipulating, reprogramming, replacing blood, destroying harmful bacteria and viruses, reversing soft-tissue destruction, preventing bacterial infection, repairing DNA.
And the test carried on this individual is fun to read: Willingness to Live Test; The H-Scan Test to measure the subject's biological age; The Willingness to Persevere in Difficult Conditions Test; The Infinite Sadness Endurance Test; The Response to Loss of Child Test. In the end it was clear that what this company is dealing in is snake oil.

The divide between Euro culture and American culture was stated and with no knowledge in such issues a bold statement cannot be made here. For instance, it was almost clear that these longevity, immortality, ultra-health care issues are American fantasies and idiosyncrasies that has nothing to do with Eurpoeans. The book is a reminder of Atwood's Oryx and Crake with tinges of Orwell's 1984.

10 comments:

  1. A very interesting read. I am impressed when i read meaningful articles like this. Keep up the good work

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  2. George Orwell's 1984 immediately came to mind too. Will I like to be kept young by millions of nanobots in my bloodstream? Maybe not. I'll feel like a cyborg.

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  3. Nana, you've done a good review, but this short story is not for me.

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    1. Thanks Celestine. Sure? There were some comic moments. In fact the whole story is a parody of what is currently happening in such countries.

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  4. I enjoyed the short story well enough, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to read the full-length novel: were you intrigued enough to want more?

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    1. Perhaps I quoted the science-biased sections. I can't say I enjoyed it that much to want more of it.

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  5. Aha, it's surely the science based section that had me off it. You know, I was never good in the subject at school, ha ha ha.

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    Replies
    1. I quoted those parts to show what the story is about and how we have given up ourselves to such frivolities.

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  6. This does sound like a really interesting book, discussing some frustrating trends like the diet craze for example. Thanks for the review.

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