Lara Vapnyar’s “Still Here” is a pretty hilarious story about four Russian immigrants in New York. There’s Vica and Sergey, who moved to New York shortly after they were married when Sergey received a scholarship to New York School of Business. There’s Vadik, who has struggled to find an identity that fits into New York City, and finally, Regina, who has married a wealthy American venture capitalist. Like all good books (and TV shows) about a group of friends, the friend group is pretty incestuous, Vica left Vadik for Sergey who was dating Regina at the time, etc.
There’s two topics that I always love reading about. First, since my parents immigrated to the US in the 80s, I really connect with books about the immigrant experience. Second, I love reading books that take place in New York City. It’s so much fun to see my city through someone else’s eyes. Vapnyar has some really hilarious and astute observations on living in New York, that I often found myself dog-earing pages and chuckling out loud.
It wasn’t her fault that she lived on Staten Island. Vica’s personality was pure Manhattan. It’s just that her financial situation wasn’t.
Vapnyar created some characters that are each unique, fully developed, and flawed. Her characters are insecure and trying to make a home for themselves in New York City, far away from home. I found myself identifying with some of the same insecure thoughts that Vica had, as she’s trying to figure out how to make friends at work and where to spend her free time. These were definitely somethings I’ve thought when I moved here for college almost ten years ago.
She hadn’t been to the Met in ages. You couldn’t consider yourself a refined and cultured person if you hadn’t been to the Met in ages, could you? But then did New Yorkers even go there? Tourists and art students went there, yes, but what about regular New Yorkers? Vica tried to think of the most cultured New Yorker she knew. Regina? Regina wasn’t a real New Yorker. Eden? No, Eden never went there. Both Eden and her husband had graduated from Harvard, so they didn’t have to go to the Met because they didn’t need to prove they were cultured.
Another thread that ties the four friends together is an idea for an app (who doesn’t think they have a Great App Idea?) called “Virtual Grave.” The premise of the app starts as a way to control your social media after your death. Throughout the book, we see each of the friends wrestle with the idea of mortality and how social media impacts our lives, from the facade of Facebook to the vicious cycles of online dating. While this is a timely topic, I think this is where the story fell a little flat. Given the prevalence of social media today, I don’t think a book can serve as a commentary on social media if it only looks at Facebook and Twitter. What about Instagram, Snapchat, Vine? The survey is a little incomplete and dated. Maybe Vapnyar intended to do this, as her characters are all in their late thirties, but if so, she didn’t convince me.
In the last chapter of the book, Vapnyar uses a really cheesy gimmick where the first two pages resemble a group chat, with profile pictures, emojis, and all. It gave me flashbacks to books I read in elementary school. I found this a really weak way to end the book, when this gimmick wasn’t used at all in the first 270+ pages. Overall, the book was a quick and enjoyable read, but I don’t think I’ll be adding Vapnyar to my list of favorite authors anytime soon.
I would recommend this book to people who like reading stories set in New York City, people who watch romantic comedies anytime they’re on television, and people who are looking for a gateway into (albeit light) Russian literature.
- I’d like to thank Blogging for Books for sending me this book in return for an honest review.