cover image Little Failure: A Memoir

Little Failure: A Memoir

Gary Shteyngart. Random, $27 (360p) ISBN 978-0-679-64375-3

One afternoon in 1996, a book titled St. Petersburg: Architecture of the Tsars becomes Shteyngart's madeleine, carrying him back in time and memory to his childhood in St. Petersburg and launching him on a career of writing about the past in his novels (Absurdistan). In his typical laugh-aloud approach, the acclaimed novelist carries us with him on his journey, from his birth in Leningrad and his decision to become a writer at age five to his immigration to America and his family's settling in New York City in 1979. Adolescent misadventure, his days at Oberlin College, his psychoanalysis, and his struggles after college to wend his way through the workaday world toward becoming a writer round out the trip. Shteyngart spends much of his pre-adolescence glued to the television set, watching shows like Gilligan's Island, which causes him to ask himself questions about American culture: "Is it really possible that a country as powerful as the United States would not be able to locate two of its best citizens lost at sea, to wit the millionaire and his wife?" Shteyngart's self-deprecating humor contains the sharp-edged twist of the knife of melancholy in this take of a young man "desperately trying to have a history, a past." (Jan.)