Tuesday, June 7, 2022

Either/Or, by Elif Batuman: Sex and Booze and Kierkegaard

It's rarely true, but in this case it is: The sequel is better than the original! In Elif Batuman's new novel Either/Or — a continuation of the story she started with 2017's The Idiot — Selin's story of life and love at Harvard marches on.

In The Idiot, during Selin's freshman year at Harvard, she discovered first love (but it's complicated) with a Hungarian dude named Ivan. In this novel, her sophomore year, Ivan is gone (though not forgotten) and she discovers the truths of college life: sex and booze and Kierkegaard!

Frankly, not much happens plot-wise in this book. Selin reads a lot and is often stopped cold by how what she reads (Pushkin, Henry James, even Soren himself) applies to her own life and what happened with Ivan a year ago. I joked with a friend that this novel reminded me of a much funnier, more erudite, and more astute version of me sitting in my dorm room in 1996 explaining to anyone who would listen why Smashing Pumpkins' song Mayonaise is about my life. 

Another improvement in this novel vs The Idiot is that Selin has developed a snarky, self-deprecating sense of humor. She's got a little bit of a Tiny Fey-ish thing going on here, and I loved it. Take, for instance, her thoughts on the 1980s show Voltron: 

"This reminded me of Voltron, a cartoon about five space pilots who were supposed to defend the universe. In every episode they got into a terrible predicament, where the one who was a girl was always about to have to become a sex slave and carry fruit on her head. At the last minute, they would remember to merge their five rockets, thereby forming Voltron: a gigantic unbeatable robot-man with rocket-arms and rocket-legs. It was unclear why they didn’t become Voltron earlier. ‘It’s probably because of their selfish American individualism,’ Sahin said.” 

"...carry fruit on her head..." That just slayed me!

So, if you enjoyed The Idiot, I think you'll love this too. This truly is a sequel — it picks up almost exactly where The Idiot left off as if there hasn't been a break of five years between novels at all. So it does help to have read the first one. And I'm hopeful there'll be more, because we leave off here on a little bit of a cliffhanger. But so, Either/Or was a lot of fun — extremely smart, really entertaining.  

No comments:

Post a Comment