• Life and Death in the Digital Age
Still Here: A Novel Book Cover Still Here: A Novel
Lara Vapnyar
Random House LLC
August 2, 2016
Kindle E-book

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?

free copyThe Internet Means We’re All Still Here…

In the not too distant past, an individual’s personality was defined by their actions, words, and mannerisms, as experienced by those who knew them personally. Success was defined by working hard and moving up the ladder in a company or similar business environment. But the Internet, and in particular social media, has changed all that. It is now important to develop a well calibrated social media persona, to make sure you appear urbane and worldly. Success for many means quickly amassing enough cash to throw it around conspicuously: to post picture of your home(s), car(s), and extravagant vacations on Facebook and Instagram, to have your Tweets favorited and shared to the masses, etc. It is against this backdrop that Still Here is written, as four Russian immigrants struggle to master the American Dream, all the while making it seem effortless to anyone observing them.

I had a difficult time deciding how I felt about this book. I didn’t love it. But I didn’t hate it either. Nor did I think it was mediocre. So if this review seems inconsistent, I apologize in advance!

So why didn’t I love it? Well, there was not a single main character in this book that I liked; I found them all to be rather vile and/or pathetic in some way. This was off-putting, although not enough to make me leave the book unfinished. Each of them was like a walking train wreck, which I suppose is realistic in a sense, but I feel like most people have redeeming qualities in real life, and that was sorely lacking in these four characters. Some of the supporting cast was quite likable, but that wasn’t enough for me to give a thumbs up for character development.

And why didn’t I hate it? In my opinion, Still Here, supplies a very important, and accurate social commentary on life in the U.S., and how it revolves so heavily around social media. From dating, to shopping, to developing an online persona, the Internet often seems all consuming. If you listen to peoples’ conversations in public they are often discussing things that so-and-so posted on Facebook, or critiquing the veracity of someone’s Instagram photo. The book also touches on the sad fact that we put our life’s highlight reel out there for public consumption, but are so caught up in wanting to appear perfect, that we fail to develop real friendships, and then have no one to turn to when real life intrudes.

Finally, why do I definitely not think this book was mediocre? Well, because the writing itself is good. Ms. Vapnyar’s authorial voice has an enjoyable acerbic wit to it, and she weaves a story that is easy to follow and process. And because of her exploration into how the Internet has changed daily life, our perceptions of success and the American Dream itself, and how we worry about our control of our public image even after death…I have to say this book is not at all mediocre.

Read it. Think about it.

You won’t be sorry.