I have to admit, I’d never read any of Gary Shteyngart’s books before picking up Little Failure, his memoir. But the reviews from Goodreads readers were outstanding. There were many, many five star reviews, so I trusted and gave it a go.
Shteyngart isn’t a very old writer – in fact, he’s younger than I am but at 40 it is possible to have lived enough of a life to merit a memoir. In Shteyngart’s case that isn’t so. He really hasn’t done anything memorable, and the book ends prior to any major literary achievement he might have accomplished. So it’s basically about his childhood, where, as a Soviet Jewish immigrant, he arrived in Queens, New York at the age of 7, and proceeded be bullied until he fully “Americanized,” and became an obnoxious little jerk who very obviously grows up to be an obnoxious adult jerk.
I didn’t find Shteyngart funny at all. His humor was not just self-deprecating, it speared EVERYONE he knew. Which is to say he apparently found no redeeming qualities in the people he met, aside from sex with college co-eds, but even then he did manage to make fun of his girlfriends while simultaneously being enamored of them. Okay, he loved his grandmother, but only because she fed him junk food and let him watch TV the whole time he was at her house.
But is this interesting? Not in the least. In fact the only interesting thing about this book was the background of his grandparents whose families didn’t survive World War II or the Stalin era, but Shteyngart only gave the briefest mention of this. It was enough to make you curious, and then drop you like a hot potato back into Shteyngart’s pretentious drivel.
I don’t understand the five star reviews at all. The book doesn’t flow, it doesn’t connect with some amazing “Aha!” moment at the end of the book, it doesn’t even reveal some amazing secrets to his writing skills. Perhaps there’s some nostalgic connection to being in New York in the 1980’s, but I was there in the 1980’s and nothing he wrote triggered sentimentality.
2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2014
Amazon Book Preview of Little Failure