Written by Gary Shteyngart, this is the story of Sasha Senderovsky and Masha Levin-Senderovsky, who invite five of their closest friends to come live with them and quarantine from the rest of the world on their country estate in upstate New York. It’s the start of the Covid pandemic, and the world is in an upheaval with the many uncertainties, the tragic death toll, the overcrowded hospitals, and the grim insecurity of not knowing how this virus is transmitted.
The friends—Karen Cho, Vinod Mehta, Ed Kim, Dee Cameron, and a man who is only identified as The Actor—come to the estate, which the Russian hosts think of as their dacha. The Senderovskys, along with their eight-year-old daughter Natasha, who is a troubled and precocious child enamored by a Korean K-pop boy band, live in the main house. Each of the visitors lives in a very small bungalow surrounding the main house. They eat dinner together, take walks, have lots of sex, drink copious amounts of alcohol, share their emotional torments, and seem to thrive on troubled interactions. They resurrect old wounds, recall their younger days, and analyze what is most important to them in life. They love one another. They betray one another. The virus may be raging out of control somewhere out there, but on this country estate, temperaments and emotions are also raging out of control.
Organized as a play in four acts, but written as a novel, this is a philosophical and almost scholarly book with numerous references to classic Russian literature, especially Anton Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” on which the novel is very loosely based.
The writing is sharp and witty, and sometimes quite funny, but too much of it drags on—especially the fever dream of an ending—for me to call it an enjoyable read.