How Gary Shteyngart beat the pandemic blues to write a novel in lockdown

1 year ago 122

Unlike astir of america slobs, who wasted the COVID-19 pandemic lounging connected the sofa portion binge-watching reruns of “Friends,” novelist Gary Shteyngart, 49, buckled down and got to work.

In six abbreviated months, the writer of “Super Sad True Love Story” pounded out “Our Country Friends” (Random House), a comic caller astir a radical of friends who stitchery successful a state location to hold retired the pandemic. The Post precocious met with the Leningrad-born, NYC-bred Shteyngart, who shared stories astir his “busted schlong” and riding retired COVID successful his ain pandemic pod astatine his Dutchess County “dacha.”

Where did you walk your pandemic? 

Shteyngart:  Almost each of it was upstate, from March done astir each of 2020. I don’t deliberation I’ve ever spent specified a Iong a agelong up there, but it was amazing. I wrote doubly arsenic accelerated arsenic I bash successful the city. I can’t get my thoughts unneurotic down here. When ambulances spell by, it knocks maine disconnected my rhythm. I enactment successful receptor plugs, I usage achromatic sound machines, I got the full happening but still… Upstate I was with my woman and child, and we had a pandemic pod with a mates friends. It was fantastic but we felt precise guilty, due to the fact that of each that was happening successful Elmhurst and Jackson Heights, wherever each the characters successful the publication are from and wherever successful immoderate ways I’m from. Here we were, surviving a afloat idyllic beingness and you crook connected the quality and spot nursing homes filled with radical dying and municipality centers, often of mediocre people, successful the mediate of this Black Plague, truthful it was precise disconcerting… 

One of the characters in “Our Country Friends” is described arsenic “pouring retired inky reddish vino with the prophylactic assistance of an oven mitt.” Did your pod support specified measures? 

We were pouring worldly with an oven mitt, wearing masks, conscionable endless precautions due to the fact that we didn’t cognize what was going on. I retrieve being deathly frightened of the plume of a toilet, that aerosol plume that happens erstwhile you flush, due to the fact that astatine immoderate constituent each these publications were similar “that’s gonna beryllium a killer.” The archetypal clip I went to a edifice I conscionable held it in. I thought, “I’m not going to that decease toilet.”

How’d you extremity up with an upstate residence? 

This genuinely blessed spot erstwhile I was increasing up was this Russian bungalow colony upstate. I didn’t talk English existent good, and the kids determination treated maine nicely ‘cuz we each spoke Russian, truthful I ever had a brushed spot for upstate. And Russians emotion their dachas, their summertime places. 

I work you were bullied a batch increasing up successful Queens…

Of course, Queens, you person to beryllium bullied!  That was each the fun. 

Gary Shteyngart grew up   successful  Queens but ever  had a brushed  spot   for upstate, wherever  helium  rode retired  the pandemic.Gary Shteyngart grew up successful Queens but ever had a brushed spot for upstate, wherever helium rode retired the pandemic.Stephen Yang

So it was nary large deal?

It was a blimpish Jewish schoolhouse and I didn’t cognize overmuch astir the Torah, didn’t truly attraction much. So I wrote my archetypal satire, called The Gomorrah, which was a take-off connected the Torah, written connected an existent scroll. And that’s however I made my archetypal American friends, and the bullying went from “Gary’s this horrible Russian” to “Gary’s conscionable a weirdo who writes brainsick stuff.” And that’s a amended place! Just eccentric, alternatively of idiosyncratic you privation to curse astatine oregon punch. 

In the caller you picture a schoolhouse the characters be arsenic a spot for “bright beaten overseas youngsters.” 

Beaten by our parents, yeah. And sometimes by our chap students too! 

You also notation a clip during quarantine erstwhile “the mediate people is successful their beds for the foreseeable future…”  Was that you, too?  Meaning, did you watch “Tiger King”?   

Yeah, I did ticker “Tiger King.”  I emotion each that crappy television! I enactment successful furniture and sometimes I similar to not get retired of bed, truthful I ticker things connected my laptop.  

You write successful bed, with the laptop connected your stomach? Doesn’t that navigator you?  

It cooks maine a little, and it’s besides expected to origin sterility, but I don’t person to breed anymore truthful I’m really good with that. A signifier of commencement control, yeah…

Did you instrumentality up baking bread, too? 

No, each I did was cook this novel. I respect radical who baked a batch of scones and crap, but I did not cook anything. 

How were you truthful productive?   

Well, determination was thing to do! I was with my friends, but erstwhile I’m successful the metropolis I portion a lot. The metropolis inspires a batch of drinking, writers similar to drink, truthful each the clip gathering antithetic writers and artists, TV people, everyone likes to drink, but upstate there’s overmuch little of that. We really person thing to unrecorded for up there. 

What did you miss astir New York City? 

Restaurants! Oh God, did I miss the restaurants. I missed Casa Mono connected Irving Place. I emotion their cookware con tomate. It’s a precise elemental dish, breadstuff with tomatoes, but it’s truthful delicious, and the jamon serrano, this precise delicious Spanish ham that you tin enactment connected top.  

“Our Country Friends"

In “Our Country Friends,” you speech astir a post-quarantine New York City wherever “people are moving done the streets, illuminated by the occurrence of burning trash cans, the mode the metropolis utilized to beryllium successful its heyday.” Are you enjoying the city’s instrumentality to “gritty”?   

I’m good with that! Obviously determination are costs involved, and a batch of radical aren’t gonna similar it, but for maine New York was a metropolis of stories. Not of Duane Reades: stories! Jay McInerney’s brilliant “Bright Lights, Big City” begins with a feline walking adjacent Times Square and idiosyncratic tries to merchantability him a ferret. I miss the ferret days! Things were much unsafe and I didn’t similar that. I didn’t similar having to enactment my wallet successful my sock, but I didn’t mind, whatever, arsenic agelong arsenic idiosyncratic would effort to merchantability maine a ferret alternatively of a caller AT&T subscription for a phone.

Last period you famously wrote a New Yorker essay astir your botched circumcision. The question is why?

Ha! I conscionable thought it was thing radical don’t deliberation about, due to the fact that speaking adjacent to a fewer friends I discovered this happens rather a lot, and I thought it would beryllium negligent of maine not to effort to get that retired to a greater audience.  

Were you embarrassed to stock truthful overmuch astir your idiosyncratic life? 

If I was a twenty-something trying to date, yeah, I mightiness not privation to speech astir my busted schlong, but, I’m getting amended now, I’m capable to function. But I wanted to marque definite if radical are considering this they person each the information. I deliberation it’s important for men, and particularly young parents, to cognize if they bash this, determination tin beryllium consequences.

This interrogation has been edited for magnitude and clarity.