Imagine a toned down version of Transmetropolitan and a more death obsessed White Noise had a lovechild via Facebook. What you might get is Gary Shteyngart’s short story, “Lenny Hearts Eunice” with the sad sack Lenny a protagonist much closer to Jack Gladney than Spider Jerusalem.
This is a weird story. Shteyngart doesn’t explain anything about the setting, instead he drops small details that unsettle the reader as the picture begins to take shape. Imagine machines that broadcast your credit score when you walk by. Imagine smartphone type medallions worn around the neck. Imagine no one reading, and an industry built around eternal life for the wealthy.
The basic premise could be a love story. It’s quite obvious from the title. Lenny Abramov is approaching forty and in love with a twenty-four year old woman named Eunice Park. They are total opposites, and she doesn’t really love Lenny, or at least not initially. For the reader, Lenny is lovable in a quirky, earnest, sad sort of way. Maybe those facets are what pulls Eunice toward him.
The story bounces around from Lenny writing in his diary, it opens with:
Lucky diary! Undeserving diary! From this day forward, you will travel on the greatest adventure yet undertaken by a nervous, average man sixty-nine inches in height, a hundred and sixty pounds in heft, with a slightly dangerous body-mass index of 23.6.
to Eunice writing messages to a friend that she refers to as “Precious Panda,” and scenes played out in first person from Lenny’s perspective. The shifting point of view allows us to see different sides of the characters without being too obvious.
Initially, the story starts out in Italy, where Lenny meets Eunice. It then shifts to New York City, as Lenny goes back to his job at the Post-Human Services Division of the Staatling-Wapachung Corporation, where eternal life is reachable to those whom are young, beautiful, and/or wealthy. The story is a broadcast of a possible future. People are overly connected through digital means, following streams of data, having an interconnectedness that is superficial. Lenny resists this superficiality even though he works for it. For Eunice, she’s never met anyone like Lenny. The world has moved on while Lenny holds on to the past. What would eternal life be like if you lived in a world with which you no longer identified?
He knew that I would never make it as a past-tense man in a world set to the future.
He knew that all the green tea in Japan would not regenerate my liver, that SmartBlood would never run through my veins.
I thought of how it was all just too beautiful to ever let go.