Making fun of Gary Shteyngart is like shooting pickled herring in a barrel. But tonight New York literati will head to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to roast the self-described “furry 39-year-old immigrant man” and author of three wildly comic novels about the expat experience.
Funny as these novels are, each is rooted in sad truths: smartphone addiction, globalization and what happens when the object of your affection, whether it it’s person or a city, changes.
“I have a kind of nostalgia for New York,” Shteyngart tells Metro from his upstate home, where he goes to enjoy the calming influence of a neighboring sheep farm. “I grew up in a New York that was a lot more dangerous than New York today. And that wasn’t good, but it sure as hell was a lot more interesting. When I was growing up, there wasn’t a Duane Reade and a Chase Bank on every corner. It felt like anything could happen. You could see the unimaginable by just turning a corner. And that feeling has slightly subsided. It’s moved on to other parts of the world.”
“We’ve become an island of millionaires in a very big way,” he continues. “And that’s not fun. I don’t think it’s even fun for the millionaires.”
His last novel, 2010’s “Super Sad True Love Story,” is set in a broken-down, militarized New York of the not-too-distant future, where women wear see-through pants and credit scores are displayed publicly. Its vision was unusually prophetic, with Occupy Wall Street-type groups encamped in city parks and rising sea levels threatening Lower Manhattan.
“I’ve been talking about the need for sea barriers for a very long time,” Shteyngart says. “We’re just a few feet above sea level in many parts of the city, and as the seas grow and if the hurricanes become more frequent, we’re going to be swamped continuously. We have to find a way to defend the city, or we’re not gonna have a city.”
But when asked which element of the novel he most fears coming true, he immediately answers, “Onionskin jeans. Keeping our jeans non-transparent is working well for us.”
Lately, Shteyngart has received attention for his prolific blurbing, documented in a Tumblr (shteyngartblurbs.tumblr.com), subtitled “a gallery of promiscuous prose.”
“I’ll blurb anyone,” he says. “You got a book, I’ll blurb it.” But, we ask him, doesn’t that devalue the blurbs? “It really does, and my real dream is that people will stop asking me to write blurbs. My blurbs not only don’t help, but they detract from the value of a book. It’s almost reached that tipping point when people will stop, and then I’ll be free! Ha ha! Free!”
If you go
Greenlight Bookstore and BAM present the Roast of Gary Shteyngart
BAM Harvey Theater
651 Fulton St., Brooklyn