Gary Shteyngart's Super Sad True Financial Story

Studio 360

The sickening ups and downs of the debt ceiling crisis are feeding worries that American politics and the economy are unraveling. For the novelist Gary Shteyngart, it all sounds very familiar:"I'll turn on the news, I'll vomit from nervousness and then I'll wipe my chin and say 'Oh, you know I kind of got it right.'"

Just a year ago, in his novel Super Sad True Love Story, Shteyngart depicted the US government defaulting on its debt --- most of it held by the Chinese. Then the political system pretty much collapses and there's rioting in the streets. (The book really is, or at least contains, a love story.) He tells Kurt Andersen, "When I wrote the book people thought, 'Oh, you're thinking of a future 30 years from now.' I was actually thinking of 5 years, but I didn't know it would be 5 months."

Novelists, Shteyngart thinks, have an edge over fact-based writers when it comes to foreseeing the future. "Nonfiction writers or journalists are constrained by the fact that they have to write about the present," he explains. "We're barreling headlong into this horrific future. So being able to write fiction about it is, in some ways, more accurate than trying to cover the fleeting moments of today."

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