An exploration of life, death, and social media from the author of The Scent of Pine (2014) and Memoirs of a Muse (2006).
Sergey, Vica, Vadik, and Regina are all Russian émigrés living in New York, and all are dissatisfied with the people they’ve become. Sergey keeps losing his job as a financial analyst. Vica put medical school on hold so that Sergey could start his—now permanently stalled—career. Vadik is a successful computer programmer, but his romantic life peaked on his first day in Manhattan. And Regina gave up her work as a literary translator when she married an American tech entrepreneur; now she spends her days binge-watching vintage sitcoms in her Tribeca apartment. For each of them, technology plays a role in the disconnect between the selves they imagine and the selves they actually achieve. This is especially true of Sergey, who’s convinced that Virtual Grave, his idea for an app that will allow the dead to live on via Twitter and Facebook, is going to rescue him from his disastrous career in finance. Vapnyar is a shrewd writer, and her characters are sharp observers. As she shifts from one point of view to the next, each member of this quartet makes up—in some degree—for the blind spots of the others. But these characters often get lost in their own back stories, which means that pages and pages pass in which the narrative stands still. Then the story leaps ahead between chapters; much of the major action happens offstage. These stylistic choices make some sense. The distance between Moscow and New York doesn’t sever the past from the present, and a carefully constructed social media presence can obscure as much as it reveals. Nevertheless, some readers may be frustrated by the uneven pacing, and the happy ending for all feels forced.
Definitely smart, fairly entertaining, but not likely to expand the author’s audience.