Review – Still Here, by Lara Vapnyar

I’ve always had an interest in Russian history, but haven’t ventured much into contemporary Russian literature. When Penguin Random House sent me an ARC of Lara Vapnyar’s “Still Here” about a month ago I was eager to jump into a genre I knew little of.

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Unfortunately, this was not a good start.

“Still Here” is a character study of four lifelong friends – Vica, Sergey, Vadik, and Regina – who have immigrated from Russia to New York City, or Staten Island in Vica and Sergey’s case (much to Vica’s chagrin). While Regina and Vadik live under the guise of having “made it” in the big city, Vica and Sergey struggle in their personal and professional lives as they continuously try and fail to pitch and sell an app called “Virtual Grave” that would maintain the online presence of deceased individuals.

The premise of the story is compelling. An app that allows your voice to live on through social media after death. Four friends navigating the complexities of a new home and the turbulence their relationships with each other and those outside of their group face as a result. A commentary on love, sex, and what defines “success.”

Sadly, the “Virtual Grave” subplot was tied only very loosely into the over all story; it almost felt like Vapnyar forgot she had introduced the app as a major plot device and only threw it into the mix the few times it popped up in her mind.

The biggest disappointment, however, was how completely insufferable each of the four protagonists turned out to be (particularly Vica).This wouldn’t necessarily be a problem were it not for the fact that Vapnyar clearly did not set out to write entirely unlikeable characters.

Maybe I just didn’t get this one, but “Still Here” was definitely not for me. Incomplete storytelling and lack of a single likable character made it difficult to trudge through this one. I had to make myself to sit down and read just a little bit each day, and didn’t finish for nearly two weeks.

When you have to force yourself to finish a book just for the sake of finishing it, all the fun gets sucked out of reading. I’m glad to put this one behind me and move on to the next.

 

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