Jul 22, 2010

Gary Steyngart's Lenny Hearts Eunice

Gary Steyngart's short story in the New Yorker's 20 under 40 selection, Lenny Hearts Eunice is a mini version of Nabokov's Lolita, transplated to the 21st century. That seemingly unique mix of humor, pity, joy and sadness that Nabokov had achieved are all there, making this story a truly fun read. The difference being that Lolita was a book-length story whereas I can't see myself reading a book-length version of Steyngart's story.
Not sure why. Perhaps the characters seem too pitiful to me, and I don't respond well to easy sympathy. The primary feeling towards Humbert was a disapproving kind of disdain, and not pity, and yet I could identify with him (for the most part of the novel). I feel that Lenny was constructed for the express purpose of creating pity, bathos, and humor but not disdain, and I just can't identify with a character painted with overwhelming pitifulness and bathos. The fact that the story is written from both characters' perspective, alternately, doesn't help one identify with Lenny. Lolita was narrated solely from Humbert's point of view, we never get to hear her voice, her story - we can only surmise her feelings, her speech, her mannerisms. Perhaps Steyngart has made Eunice, his 21st century Lolita too explicit, too literal in his descriptions of her mannerisms and speech patterns, she's too real and interferes with the imaginary Eunice, Lenny's imaginary Lolita. I almost expected to read a James Wood critique that this story suffers from hysterical realism.
Or perhaps I just didn't like this story as much as I thought I would, despite seeing the author's brilliance behind the selection of the various elements that comprise it.