Title: Still Here
Author: Lara Vapnyar
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Setting: Mostly NYC and a little bit in Moscow.
Source: ARC from First to Read
Release Date: Aug 2, 2016
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?
This novel is pretty far outside of what I normally pick up to read. It took me a bit to figure this book out, but even so, I had a hard time putting it down.
The story is told from the different perspectives of each character, chapter to chapter. I’ve read books with this technique before and it usually serves to isolate the characters before drawing them together in some way. Not so with Still Here. Vapnyar cleverly tells the story of these people and how their lives are intertwined while giving the reader insights into each of their lives, how they think, and how they feel, and how each event in their lives are perceived differently. It really makes you think about how the people around you, your friends, family, significant other, etc., might see circumstances differently than you do. It also makes you care about the individuals in this novel and you cheer their victories and cringe when they screw up and you laugh with them too.
The most intriguing part of this novel is the social media/online aspect. Vapnyar almost makes this a character in the story. The different ways in which each character interacts online or how they remain apart from it altogether had me analyzing my own activities online and my judgement of others’ online presence. When in a crisis, these people were constantly asking, “Who can I talk to?” Sometimes, this decision was based on what their online friends were posting. Or not posting.
In the end, this novel is about relationships and what friends are and finding happiness in your life. I started out thinking I was going to hate the novel and the people in it, but I ended up binge-reading it and being sorry that I had to say goodbye to these people. Vapnyar gave it an almost Hemingway-esque ending, but I loved it.