This is a great spoof and I thought people might enjoy this. I hope to read Absurdistan soon.
By Gary Shteyngart
October 1, 2006
New York Times Book Review
DAY 1: At 11 in the morning, while I am still savoring the last moments of a fruitful sleep, a messenger brings to my doorstep a new translation of “Oblomov,” the famous 19th-century slacker novel by Ivan Goncharov, whose eponymous hero, a member of Russia’s lazy landed gentry, spends most of his time luxuriating in bed. “Looks like I came at the wrong time,” the courier says with a wink, mistaking my usual dishabille for interrupted coitus. I return to my bed and gaze unhappily at the thick tome in my hands. Right away I’m feeling sleepy.
DAY 2: “I asked for mayo on the side,” I scream at the woman who takes my phone orders from the local diner. “I have cholesterol issues. You want me to die.” The half-eaten turkey sandwich rolls off the bed, leaving me with my trusty, sweet-smelling comforter and the very thick volume of “Oblomov,” the famous 19th-century Russian slacker novel by Ivan Goncharov, newly translated by Stephen Pearl and published by Bunim & Bannigan. I leaf through it while looking at the ceiling. That reminds me, the light bulb in the bedroom needs to be changed. Maybe tomorrow. “Oblomov” consists of 443 pages of small type plus another xxiii pages taken up by the foreword and introduction. I sit up and cross myself several times. How in the name of Anton Pavlovich Chekhov did I get myself into this mess?
DAY 3: Overslept. One p.m. But not to worry. Today the earth will shake! Today I will tackle “Oblomov,” the famous 19th-century Russian slacker novel written by Ivan Goncharov. And then I will write the most insightful essay ever written on the subject — a short, funny, but oddly moving meditation (“This short and funny meditation oddly moved me,” important people will say over breakfast) on Russian laziness that will somehow tie in with the Internet-addicted, short-attention. ... To the devil with this apartment! And now the light bulb in the hallway is out as well!
DAY 4: I’m not making any promises to myself, but today might be the day. The day I change the light bulb. And read “Oblomov,” the famous book by you-know-who. The delivery boy brings a proper turkey sandwich, mayo on the side, and a monumental cup of black coffee. I fluff up the comforter to support my gentle behind, prop up my pillows in such a way that they won’t leave a red imprint upon my neck, and open the book. “There is something deeply Russian in the character of Oblomov,” Tatyana Tolstaya writes in the book’s foreword, something that “lies in the seductive appeal of laziness and of good-natured idleness.”
DAY 5: What time is it? My laptop has been purring urgently, distracting me from that famous Russian slacker novel by Ivan Goncharov, which seems to have gotten lost somewhere within the folds of my elephantine comforter. What’s this on my screen? Breaking news over the A.P. wire: “Boy George Reports for N.Y.C. Trash Duty.” The 1980’s pop legend has been nailed on drug charges and is being forced to collect garbage just a few blocks away from me on the Lower East Side. “You think you’re better than me?” the octogenarian-looking singer is shouting at members of the media. “Go home. Let me do my community service.” I should crawl out of bed this very instant and lend my support to Mr. George. As a young Russian immigrant, I learned a great deal of English by listening to his happy bisexual crooning (“Karma, karma, karma, karma ...,” I would stutter along). If only all that damned “Oblomov”-reading hadn’t made me so sleepy.
DAY 6: I wake up in a state of agitation and throw on my dressing gown. There’s no time for coffee or the Internet. I grab “Oblomov” and start to feverishly highlight all the relevant passages. Only 400 pages to go! And when I finish with this essay, I will screw in new light bulbs. And I will clean the windows, which are as dirty as my soul. I will forswear the turkey sandwich from the diner. I will buy a house in the countryside upstate like I’ve always wanted. I will learn how to drive. Yes, I will drive up to my little country home in a leased Prius and there I will raise serfs and radishes and real fresh turkeys to put between my rye bread. My whole being is on fire! I sit up in bed and start to breathe heavily. Then I fall asleep.
DAY 7: I dream I am urgently rowing a boat to a house that appears to be drowning in the middle of the Gulf of Finland, a faded mansion in the Russian rococo style. I clamber up the waterlogged stairs, and on the top floor, recumbent upon his divan, I find Oblomov. He looks just as the book has described him, “flabby beyond his years,” with “small pudgy hands, and soft shoulders.” His equally indolent servant Zakhar is asleep on top of the stove, snoring rhythmically.
“Ilya Ilyich,” I say to Oblomov. “We must get out of this house before we drown. The water is gaining the stairs and soon we will be done for.”
Oblomov shrugs, but looks at me good-naturedly. “Take me as I am and love what is good in me!” he says, per the book.
“Don’t you see, good sir!” I say. “We are blessed to live in fascinating places in momentous times. You in 19th-century St. Petersburg, and I in early-21st-century New York. We should bestir from our beds and take heed of what surrounds us. In your day there are great thinkers such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Fyodor Dostoyevsky; in my day William Bennett and Condoleezza Rice.”
“I hardly ever read,” Oblomov says, much as he does on Page 19 of Goncharov’s novel. “What is there for me to be curious about? You know why they write that stuff — it’s just for self-gratification. ...”
DAY 8: According to the Internet, Boy George is collecting trash under the Williamsburg Bridge, less than 200 yards away from me. Perhaps I should telephone A., who occasionally contributes to S— Magazine, or D., who does something or other media-related, and we can form a little investigatory posse. I picture A. and D. and R. and T. and all the rest of us soft-spoken, liberal-college-educated youngish people lying in our queen-size beds, the glow of our all-forgiving laptops lighting up our disheveled bedrooms. Scattered about us are torn underwear, the stubs of plane tickets issued three years ago, half-eaten turkey sandwiches, spent light bulbs, ironic “vacuum tube” radios from the 1950’s, and books. Not the books that used to sustain us when we first fell in love with words but piles of freshly minted ones that demand to be read and loved and blurbed and reviewed. Where do they all come from, these books? Why do so many people need to jot down their imaginings in bursts of sophisticated English? Why all these new translations of long-forgotten texts? Why can’t I finish this essay, put on some real clothes and walk out into the summer sunlight where Boy George and the rest of our civilization await me?
DAY 9: Maybe if I clean the windows there will be a great deal of natural light and I won’t have to bother with the light bulbs. The real estate broker had told me the windows in my building “pop right out for easy maintenance” but what if they “pop right out” and kill a passing pedestrian? I fall into a deep melancholic trance. The diner completely screwed up the order. The turkey sandwich turned out to be ham. The mayo is hardly on the side. Oblomov has lost the love of his life, Olga, to his best friend, the industrious half-German Stoltz. Rapscallions have taken advantage of his good nature and robbed him of his last kopeck. He has died in his own bed of a stroke.
DAY 10: “What is it that’s doomed you?” Olga asks her beloved Oblomov before she leaves him for good. “Oblomovshchina,” he tells her — the state of being Oblomov, a term that in Russia may as well connote the state of the entire country. Some, like Tatyana Tolstaya, believe Oblomov’s immobility is rooted in the influence of Eastern philosophy upon Russia and proclaims him “one of nature’s Buddhists.” Others point the finger at Oblomov’s overprotective mother, or at a quiet, indolent, utterly thought-free childhood spent at a Russian country estate. My analyst claims his passivity is most likely rooted in depression. Who knows? One thing is certain. All this thinking takes up precious time, and the late summer sun is no longer trying to break into my bedroom and grab me by the collar. The alarm clock glows deep red in the dark. Midnight. As the members of Oblomov’s household would say: “Well, that’s another day over, praise God!”
Gary Shteyngart’s most recent novel is Absurdistan.