Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart
11/2/21; 336 pages
Our Country Friends by Gary Shteyngart is a recommended novel following a group of friends plus one movie star set during the pandemic lockdown.
It’s March 2020 and the lockdown is approaching. Sasha Senderovsky, a Russian-born novelist, Masha, his psychiatrist wife, and Nat, his adopted daughter who is obsessed with K-pop, are at their New York estate where Sasha has built a colony of bungalows. He has invited a group of friends to stay at his colony for the lockdown. Arriving are long time friends Ed Kim, a wealthy citizen of the world, Karen Cho, a successful Korean American app developer, and Vinood Mehta, a struggling Indian American writer. Joining the group is a former writing student of Sasha's, Dee Cameron, and The Actor. Once they all arrive they have no idea how long they will be staying in this bitter sweet comedy of manners.
There are certain parts of Our Country Friends where the descriptions are beautifully rendered and stunning in this novel set during a notable period in history. In a modified locked room scenario morphed with a surreal comedy of manners, these characters are all stuck together much longer than they originally anticipated and were not prepared emotionally for the experience. (The plumbing was also not prepared for the group.) I liked parts of this novel and didn't care for other parts. This uncertainty in my reaction is perhaps reflected in the novel itself.
Part of my hesitation in rating it is I didn't like any of the
characters (except, perhaps, Nat and her obsession with K-pop) and
couldn't relate to their experiences at all. All the awkward love
stories between these people were simply uncomfortable. They are not
truly fully realized characters but more a representation of different
types of people. I would be enjoying certain parts of the novel and then
something would happen or be said that sent it plummeting.
Additionally, having never actually experienced the lock down, a time of
even more work, it is unrelatable. I'll look forward to Shteyngart's
Disclosure: My review copy was courtesy of Random House.