“The moment I got my first like ... I thought, jeez this isn't gonna go so hot.”
Gary Shteyngart is known for his biting satire and smart dialogue, especially in his semi-dystopian novel Super Sad True Love Story. He's also a guest this week on Inverse Happy Hour, where he shares what it was like to predict nearly all the changes that have happened in science, technology, and our society at large when he released the book 10 years ago.
In a Q&A, Shteyngart reveals his secret for writing realistic, compelling dialogue; everything he knows about the Super Sad True Love Story TV series (spoiler: comedian Whitney Cummings is involved); and his work on the massively popular HBO show Succession. He also reads from the first chapter of Super Sad True Love Story that tells the story of a romance “between this older guy and this slightly younger woman and he’s computer illiterate and she’s living in a very kind of socialized life.”
But not before recommending an “addictive” and “weird” reality show called Terrace House that pretty much mirrors our current living conditions in self-isolation. You will have to invest at least 40 hours in it, he says, but hey, it's not like we don't all have the time...
“It’s your Ph.D. in social behavior,” he tells Inverse.
Below are the highlights from Inverse Happy Hour.
On predicting the future 10 years ago when he wrote Super Sad True Love Story — “I got my first Myspace account, I think I got my first Facebook account, and, I don’t know, the moment I logged on, I thought, this is not gonna end well. The moment I was trying to get my first like and the moment I saw my first bit of fake news, which happened like three seconds after I logged on, I thought, jeez, this is not gonna go so hot.
“So I started writing Super Sad True Love Story, and I mean I would say a really great deal of it came through, even tiny little details. Like in the book, everyone wears these jeans that are completely transparent — they’re called onion skin jeans — and there was recently a Paris fashion show featuring exactly that kind of jean.”
“The only thing that almost happened was the US is in a war with Venezuela, and I think we considered it but it never happened.”
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On what he hopes doesn't come true — “There is a kind of complete societal collapse. We’re not quite there, but I can sort of see the path the more I think about it.”
“I spend more than half the year in Upstate New York, and I always top off the gas because there’s just enough to make it to Canada.”
On his role writing for the HBO series Succession — “Having finished my last novel, Lake Success, which was all about a hedge fund guy, so I spent a lot of time sort of hanging out in this universe, which was very different from the usual universe I cover. Usually, my heroes are these kind of nebbish schlubs — the kind of character I’m most familiar with and love dearly — but this time, I decided to do it a little differently.”
“The moment I got my first like ... I thought, jeez, this is not gonna go so hot.”
“Barry Cohen, the hero, is kind of master of this universe, but he’s running away from his wife, and his autistic kid, and all this different stuff that’s happening. So I guess the reason that book kind of came about is I usually write about Manhattan, and I realized that most of my friends were gone. There was nobody left except for hedge funders. So I spent years and years hanging out with hedge fund guys — the occasional woman but mostly they were men — and I was just sort of hanging around with them and learning the douchey ways and how they saw themselves in relation to society.”
“So Succession, of course, is about a Rupert Murdoch-type family, and so there’s a lot of stuff like that, not just the details of the world — what it’s like in a private plane, etc. — but how these worlds work. Now, granted, in Succession the family is a media family. I basically know the world of finance, but there was enough similarity, I think, for me to hopefully add something to the story.”
A huge thanks to Shteyngart for joining us!