Do you want to read a novel about the pandemic?
That’s a tough sell for a lot of people but Gary Shteyngart does his best to craft fiction from horror in Our Country Friends.
In this novel set in the early covid days of 2020, a Russian-born novelist (much like Shteyngart himself) invites friends to escape the disease-ravaged city to his bucolic country retreat.
At least it seems bucolic at first. But the novelist is under financial pressure and juggles contractors and payments to keep his estate going, too proud to ask his friends for financial help.
And his friends bring their own troubles, dragging behind them a swirling mix of fears, resentments and past slights. Cooped up together, in rural isolation, conflict is inevitable.
No one is better at mixing the wildly comic and heartrendingly tragic like Shteyngart. He’s my favorite contemporary author (Super Sad True Love Story is his best book), with a keen eye on the absurdities of American life, in all its waste and splendor.
A refugee from a dead empire, he sees parallels between the rot of the Soviet Union and our current state.
What he gets wrong about this country is our fundamental optimism: like the main character in a movie, we always think that things will work out for us. This may be a deluded belief but one that shapes our national character.
In Our Country Friends, covid is waiting for all of us. The bill must be paid for our follies. But before it arrives, Shteyngart tells a comic tale of misunderstanding and misadventure in the dark woods of the country.