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Some clever wordplay, but in need of an editor
on March 13, 2005
Gary Steyngart is an obviously talented writer, as this debut novel proves. Let me be more precise: Shteyngart is gifted with words and imagery and phrasing, but less so when it comes to plot and pacing and characterization. Vladimir Girshkin, our erstwhile hero, is a walking contradiction -- a thoroughly unpleasant and unsympathetic character who will undoubtedly frustrate most readers by consistently acting in inconsistent and unpredictable fashion. The rest of the characters we encounter merely fumble through the proceedings as cardboard cutout-stereotypes; others (luckier ones?) simply disappear without a trace (sadly, it is the more interesting characters who vanish, leaving us with the dross).
Again, Shteyngart has a real flair for language, and there are some moments that will inspire true laughter in most readers. But at 470+ pages, this book is simply too long for its own good; Shteyngart can't sustain the hilarity, the plot wanders, the focus blurs, and at least 150 pages should have been cut. With a sloppily constructed plot riddled with holes, a host of inaccuracies that a watchful editor would have doubtless corrected (bones in chicken Kiev??), and a thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion, this is an interesting, but incredibly overrated, novel. Quite simply, this is not the great masterpiece that the cover blurbs would have you believe.