This novel is not quite what is advertised, or what it appears to be, and that's all for the good. Yes, it is funny, yes, it is satirical, yes, there is a love story. There is so much more to it than that.
Shteyngart has produced one of the most important novels of this generation. In the guise of the funny, satirical, sad love story, he's written a subtle, sublime, compacted human and social tragedy. The satire is in how he has extrapolated present features of society and pushed them a little farther down the road, a little close together. He takes Social Networking to the point where people are defined by the public data and quantified in the most material and shallow ways. All this is then put on display, in real time, as a means of interacting in public. He's taken the move to on-line readership to make reading books into a kind of social deviancy (it takes time away from the all-important Social Networking after all, the only way for anyone to know their place in society). He's taken the fetish amongst the political media for bipartisanship into the realm of the Bipartisan party which governs a bankrupt and collapsed America, where the current militarization and worship of the uniform in society has become the ultimate neo-conservative authoritarian occupation of the country, under the aegis of the American Restoration Authority; Baghdad simply transplanted to New York City, with an arrogant, bumbling and very Rumsfeldian cabinet secretary the real power running the government and sending National Guardsmen off to a military adventure in Venezuela, paid for by the Chinese, natch.
Lenny and Eunice's relationship is not like that of Winston and Julia in 1984. Lenny and Eunice are real people, and beautifully drawn by Shteyngart. We know about them through what they tell us about themselves, and what they tell us about each other. At first Lenny is wholly sympathetic and Eunice wholly unsympathetic, but they are gradually revealed as real characters with important redemptive qualities as well as crippling flaws. Shteyngart is a humanist who has sympathy for his people, living in times where the future is something one must try and stave off by the most material means. This skill in giving different people their own voices and revealing them through those voices is superb, as is his eviscerating humor, which takes the form of names and labels for products, entities, businesses and social ideas. His language does it all, there's no need to push anything and pile on. The satire is woven into the fabric of the novel, not the book's main point, and becomes almost incidental to the deeply tragic world that Shteyngart creates, one where, although the author is clearly full of despair over it, hope is not only a possibility but something that can be made almost from scratch. A seemingly straightforward and modest book that is one of the most deeply ambitious, and successful, works of fiction in American literature.