Gary Shteyngart’s “Little Failure”
Think author Gary Shteyngart is a big success? You must only know his novels.
The critically acclaimed writer of the best sellers “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook,” “Absurdistan” and “Super Sad True Love Story” seems to have everything going for him.
So why is his memoir called “Little Failure”? Because it’s not fiction, that’s why.
Shteyngart, now a literary “It” boy, didn’t start out that way: As a Soviet youth — the son of a harsh engineer and a fearful office administrator — he was so patriotic that he’d embrace a giant statue of Lenin.
“I’d rush over to hug the pedestal,” the 41-year-old tells the Daily News. “I so wanted Lenin to love me.”
His family emigrated to Queens when Gary was just 7. Not that his life picked up, mind you.
“Back, then, kids hated anything Russian and there I was wearing a big fur hat that looked like it was made out of some woodland animal,” he says. “I was this Russian dork.”
He was similarly an outcast at Stuyvesant High School — where, tellingly, he was escorted on the first day by his nervous mother.
Shteyngart was an underperforming student but a keen observer of his well-to-do classmates, who provided plenty of material for his debut novel, “The Russian Debutante’s Handbook.”
Next stop, Oberlin, where a new persona emerged thanks to “endless alcoholic and narcotic exploits”: Scary Gary.
“That was the height of my prodigious ingestion of drugs and alcohol,” he recalls.
After college, he returned to New York to write but was such an angry young man that a close friend finally told him, “You have to stop drinking, stop lashing out at people and enter psychoanalysis or I can’t be your friend anymore.”
The result was a four-day-a-week psychoanalysis habit — and the death of Scary Gary.
“I was so damaged,” he says, recalling that it was his mom who gave him the pessimistic nickname reflected in his memoir’s title.
Now recovered and successful — and also teaching writing at Columbia — Shteyngart can at least take solace in the fact that his lifetime of “failure” informed his new book, which is out Tuesday from Random House.
“I didn’t have to exaggerate (my life),” says the author. “It was all so outlandish every step of the way.”