1. I’m about two-thirds of the way through Gary Shteyngart’s novel, Super Sad True Love Story, and I have to tell you: if he manages to deliver a payoff as good as the buildup to this point, then I’m going to be happy to declare it one of our era’s great masterpiece works of fiction. The book is a piece of near/mid-future dystopian literature, set in such a vibrant, fully-realized, believable and frightening United States-to-be, that for the first time in my literature-reading career, I have a sense of what it must have been like to read Orwell’s 1984 in the midst of the physical and economic wreckage of post-war London, or Zamiatin’s We in the early days of the Soviet Union. Shteyngart essentially takes the most odious facets of our contemporary American culture (e.g. the dumbing down of politics, persistent invasions of privacy from government and commercial sources, the coarsening of discourse and dialog, the blurring lines between entertainment and news, our ever-shortening attention spans, our constant need to be in contact via our hand-held toys, the insidious creep into the public domain of the related pornographies of violence and surgically/digitally/chemically-enhanced sexuality, etc.) and extrapolates and blends them into a shocking and terrifying whole, which never crosses the line into the realms of the unbelievable. It’s a titanic work of writing craft, and I have to admit that I’m almost afraid to keep reading, because I hate when I like a book-in-progress this much, and the author can’t fulfill his or her premise when push comes to final shove. (I’ve stopped reading Chuck Palahniuk altogether, for example, after he let me down this way for about four books in a row). I’m really rooting for Gary Shteyngart to pull it off here in Super Sad True Love Story, because his words, his language, his ideas, his characters and his themes are so rich and wonderful that they deserve a well-developed, well-delivered ending, even if it’s a Super Sad one. Fingers crossed.
2. Speaking of the dumbing down of politics, I’ve been watching political advertisements on the televisions at the gym, without actually listening to the sounds associated with them. (I wear headphones, and generally listen to Napalm Death when I’m working out). As dreadful as I imagine those commercials must sound, they’re almost unbearably awful to watch as pieces of creative craft and communications, with ugly graphics, vapid button-pushing iconography, no-budget production values, cheap/bad actors pretending to be voters, and such obvious lowest-common-denominator messages oozing out of them that it’s almost an insult to the intelligence of an average human being to think that someone paid money to put these pieces of garbage in front of us. Scarier still, these things apparently work, or nobody would continue to buy them. (See Super Scary future dystopia discussed in Bullet One above, and tremble). There’s one other disturbing element that has jumped out at me while watching these things without the sound this year: the amount of raw hate that they project, as though our political opponents, whoever they are, are subhuman, and deserve our enmity and scorn (at best) or our loathing and violent retribution (at worst). While I’m no Luddite pining for simpler days of yore, it inspires me to imagine a Nation where folks learned about politics by going to watch political candidates debate issues publicly for hours, rather than a Nation where people are expected to make choices based on idiotic, pandering garbage like what’s being pumped into my gym, and presumably every household hereabouts, every ten minutes or so. It makes me grieve for the soul of my Nation, truly. And I say this as a non-partisan, thinking, centrist citizen, willing to devote the time and energy needed to understand issues and make rational, lucid choices as to how I should vote to advance the causes of import to me, and willing to live with and work with the opposition should my candidates fail. It scares me to think that I might be in the minority in this regard.
3. Are cats supposed to like olives? Because Ladyjane the Bumblecat with Thumbs is absolutely crazy about them, which I discovered for the first time when she, literally, tried to take one out of my mouth while I was eating it. Here she is in her basket on top of the ‘fridge, trying to figure out how to use her thumbs to work a can opener, to get to the tasty morsels within, as weird as that might be . . .