The first wave of pandemic novels is beginning in earnest, with Gary Shteyngart at the helm.
Beware—there’s a new wave of COVID! It’s novels. The latest writer to be infected is Super Sad True Love Story author Gary Shteyngart, whose newly announced novel Our Country Friends follows the shifting relationships of a group of friends at a country house in upstate New York as they hide from the pandemic. Here’s the full synopsis:
It’s March 2020 and a calamity is unfolding. A group of friends and friends-of-friends gathers in a country house to wait out the pandemic. Over the next six months new friendships and romances will take hold, while old betrayals will emerge, forcing each character to reevaulate whom they love and what matters most. The unlikely cast of characters include: a Russian-born novelist; his Russian-born psychiatrist wife; their precocious child obsessed with K-pop; a struggling Indian American writer; a wildly successful Korean American app developer; a global dandy with three passports; a young flame-thrower of an essayist, originally from the Carolinas; and a movie star, The Actor, whose arrival upsets the equilibrium of this chosen family.
COVID-19 as a device to push characters together; that’s similar to another upcoming pandemic book, the Decameron-esque collaborative novel by Margaret Atwood, John Grisham, Dave Eggers, and others about a group of neighbors telling each other stories on a New York rooftop. And togetherness as a consequence of COVID-19 is already seeping inspirationally into publicity pitches for upcoming novels—dare I say #AloneTogether? (The real infection . . . was empathy.) It’ll be interesting to see if this is the dominant narrative in the first round of COVID-related fiction, or if there will be similarly popular less group-oriented works—and whether the audience publishers expect will materialize.
But it’s too early to know whether Shteyngart’s novel tackles COVID in any significant way or if COVID is simply the backdrop for Shteyngart to do his thing—be hilarious, sad, biting—with a wide cast of characters. Reading those character descriptions, I want more, and as a Shteyngart enthusiast, I’m intrigued; I’ll be tuning in come November, and then again when it inevitably becomes a miniseries.