Still Here by Lara Vapnyar
Published August 2nd. 2016 by Hogarth.
Rating: ★ (DNF)
A profound and dazzlingly entertaining novel from the writer Louis Menand calls “Jane Austen with a Russian soul”.
In her warm, absorbing and keenly observed new novel, Lara Vapnyar follows the intertwined lives of four immigrants in New York City as they grapple with love and tumult, the challenges of a new home, and the absurdities of the digital age.
Vica, Vadik, Sergey and Regina met in Russia in their school days, but remained in touch and now have very different American lives. Sergey cycles through jobs as an analyst, hoping his idea for an app will finally bring him success. His wife Vica, a medical technician struggling to keep her family afloat, hungers for a better life. Sergey’s former girlfriend Regina, once a famous translator is married to a wealthy startup owner, spends her days at home grieving over a recent loss. Sergey’s best friend Vadik, a programmer ever in search of perfection, keeps trying on different women and different neighborhoods, all while pining for the one who got away.
As Sergey develops his app—calling it “Virtual Grave,” a program to preserve a person’s online presence after death—a formidable debate begins in the group, spurring questions about the changing perception of death in the modern world and the future of our virtual selves. How do our online personas define us in our daily lives, and what will they say about us when we’re gone? (Goodreads)
When I read the synopsis of Still Here by Lara Vapnyar I got A Little Life vibes. Four friends living in New York City, dealing with different issues, yet remaining friends through the years. Instead Still Here tells the story of four friends who immigrated to New York City from Russia and lead varying degrees of “the American life”. In the first chapter, “Virtual Grave” one of the Russian friends attempts to pitch a new app idea that essentially keeps your deceased loved ones “alive” through the use of social media. The idea is shot down by saying,
I do like your idea man, Bob said. I fucking love it! But it won’t take. Not in the North American market at least. You see, Americans deal with mortality either by enforcing their Christian beliefs or by ignoring it. We don’t like to think about death. We prefer to think about more uplifting things, like prolonging life or making it better. That’s the way it is. Sorry, man.
And just like that, it was over.
The second chapter, “Hello, Love!” talks about another app, essentially a matchmaking app and all the people one of the Russians has dated over the years. I was not getting the connection to the first chapter at all. It felt like a short story. I couldn’t even make it through the entire chapter. So I decided to skip ahead. I picked another chapter at random and started reading. It was much more interesting, however, I didn’t feel inclined to finish it. I tried one more chapter at random since they felt more like diary entries or short stories and again read the first few paragraphs and then lost interest.
One of the most important things to me when I am starting a new story is to connect to the characters, including their name. I had a tough time with these names and I know it’s because they weren’t the typical American names I am used to. It also had to do with the fact that they are referred to by their Russian and Americanized names. Each chapter felt like a separate story centered around either Vica, Vadik, Sergey or Regina. It did not feel cohesive in any way. Maybe I didn’t give it the fair shot it deserved, but judging by what I read I doubt I would have enjoyed it much more than I did from what I did read. I wanted to be captivated by their lives instead, I was just bored.
Received in exchange for an honest review from Blogging for Books.