Cover Image: Our Country Friends

Our Country Friends

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Member Reviews

This is an interesting book.  It begins in the early days of the pandemic, as a group of friends gather at the country estate of a successful author who is increasingly down on his luck.  His main hope is that the television series he is developing with a famous actor is picked up by the cable network that has commissioned it.  So the author brings together two of his high school friends, one who developed a very successful dating app, the other who once hoped to be a writer but is now a short order cook; their other friend, who largely lives off his family money traveling the world; one of his former students, who published a successful book of essays, and the actor himself.  Together with the author's wife, the only one that seems that concerned about the pandemic, and their daughter, the group spends the next six months together, as old hurts, new loves, and questions of what the future holds coexist with the realities of life in relative isolation.  

This novel was an interesting exploration of the nature of family and friendships, where they overlap and where they diverge, and how they are impacted by internal and external pressures.  Highly recommended!
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You will either love or totally dislike this book. I kept trying to like it, but I found the characters dysfunctional and unlikeable and that was it for me.  The purported humor was hard for me to see.
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I will recommend this book to anyone who already loves and understands this author. I was very excited when this ARC became available because, to my knowledge, there are no other books out there yet that are pretty much all about Covid and the friends and family who get trapped together because of it.

Apparently, I do not have the type of sense of humor needed for this book, nor do I have the education for it. I am not as politically correct as one needs to be to read this book.

Endless run-on sentences, dislikeable characters, bigotry, prejudice, and out-and-out babble predominates what I have managed to read.

I am done. Covid has made life too difficult to force myself to finish something this painful.

*ARC provided by the publisher.
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Big Chill meets Covid-19. Sasha & his wife Masha Senderovsky are hosting a multi-cultural reunion of his high school friends, at their over-leveraged House on the Hill. There's a lot going on in here, from spirited adopted child bonding issues, blonde ingenue with questionable politics, Hollywood superstar overcome by out-of-control tech app, repressed memories and first loves, medical directives... and in the background 80's pop-culture and 2020 memes and fads are delineated as America's morality crumbles. There were phrases I wasn't familiar with before reading this, for example loose motions and secret sharer; I still don't understand what the despised California vineyard logo is all about.  But Gary Shteyngart definitely entertains.
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I read this funny novel when I was on vacation and laughed out loud several times. Also fit in well with the whole pandemic thing we've been living through.
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Shteyngart writes a novel that centers around the COVID-19 pandemic in a poignant manner with a side of the US in the era of Trump. It is a fast read that packs an emotional punch and gets you very invested in the characters. It is well worth the read.
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Different kind of novel from Shyeyngart but very enjoyable.  First with COVID-19 as a subplot that I’ve come across, which is a character unto itself. 
Great characters, moving the plot along.
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A disappointing, self-indulgent novel that is too long, goes nowhere and leaves plot lines unfinished. The characters are unlikeable, insecure, and unreasonably juvenile in their thoughts and interactions. I found myself putting this book down, and then dreading picking it up again, and in the end, I waded through more than half in the hope of finding some redeeming quality, then skimmed to the end to make sure I didn’t miss anything - it wasn’t worth the effort. The premise was intriguing, but the story just didn’t deliver.
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Classic Shteyngart, if you like his work you will like this. It has a pandemic isolationist vibe mixed with The Big Chill (in a way), so it's relatable but with the original and unique prose you can expect from this writer.
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It's March 2020. The world is shutting down, and writer Sasha Senderovsky has the perfect plan to survive the apocalypse: invite a group of friends to his country house (alongside five bungalows, built to reflect a writers' colony he remembers from the Soviet Union), load up the pantry with expensive alcohol, and see what happens.

Hilarity ensues.

The core of this group is Sasha's closest friends since high school: Karen Cho, whose latest dating app has made millions, and Vinod Mehta, the guy who helped Sasha's writing career but who never found success himself (and who never gave up the torch for Karen that has burned since high school). Sasha's wife, Masha, spends her days providing online therapy to anxiety- and FoxNews-stricken, elderly Russian emigres.

To the core four, Shteyngart adds Ed Kim, a worldly man who acts as the group's chef; The Actor, brought in to complete a screenplay Sasha hopes to sell to a network; the Senderovskys' adopted daughter Natasha; and Dee, a southern girl, former student of Sasha's, brought in to liven things up a bit, encourage The Actor to see things Sasha's way, and to face the brunt of "cancel culture."

Living out in the country, the commune finds itself surrounded by Blue Lives Matter flags and suspicious black pick-up trucks turning into the long driveway. The events of the crisis--the murder of George Floyd, especially--are noted, although the Election story lies deep in the background. Cancel culture and Silicon Valley overreach also feature prominently. And one character vividly struggles with Covid-19 in an unforgettable section of the book.

Shteyngart's satire is razor-sharp. The excesses of cancel culture and the earnestness of white liberals get their fare share of send-offs. The bit that made me laugh out loud was when the Network responded to Sanderovsky's screenplay about characters in a downtrodden, village somewhere in the former Soviet empire:
"It's the subject matter. Oligarchs, hookers, payoffs. A former Soviet republic won't seem that different from 2020 America to the viewer."

Doesn't that make it pertinent?" Senderovsky asked.

"No, it makes it depressing."


This is the fourth Shteyngart book I've read, and while it had me laughing, I probably missed out on some of the references, too. The characterization only reached deep enough to set up a handful of gags for each character. Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an advance copy in return for an honest review.
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What always most characterizes Shteyngart’s books is the overwhelming tone of fatalistic sweetness - whether his books are directly concerning Russian emigrants or not (and they usually are), the sense that we are all doomed, but might as well enjoy the company of others, suffuses his work.  

That’s certainly true of Our Country Friends, where world events and catastrophes (2020, anyone?) reside just offscreen but the damage we cause to each other is center stage (to mix metaphors), though you can only hold off the world’s impact for so long.  Put 7 people with shared history or transactional interests together in one setting, keep them there, and watch what happens.  

I don’t want to spoil the plot because it’s fun to watch it develop and because plot isn’t the point if you’re reading Gary Shteyngart.  Read him for his barbed humanity, for his embrace of the futility of our lives.  

I will say that the book’s last quarter is dominated by a slow departure from reality and logic and convention, but the emotions undergirding these flights are consistent and carry you through wherever Shteyngart wants to take you.  It’s so rewarding to see an author who could keep churning out comic novels go for something deeper (as he did in Lake Success).  

Our Country Friends will be more divisive than his earlier works, but it’s a novel worth reading if only to see where you fall. It’s ambitious while still retaining the reasons you read a Shteyngart novel.
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Phew. From the description, I expected this novel to be gripping and fulfill my affection for novels that feature disparate characters and conflict in an isolated setting.' I was not prepared for this gloriously cathartic and moving story. I was IN this story, and it felt so good to shed tears (and laugh) at key points in the plot. To grateful for a novel that is very entertaining and captures the fear, uncertainty, sadness, and hopefulness I think we've all been feeling during this pandemic.
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I found this book to move at a nice pace and it was certainly a timely read, being that it is set during the lockdown. I found that the end felt that it didn't go with the rest of the book, that they were spliced together, which was a shame. It was an otherwise pleasant read.
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“The Big Chill” set in Summer 2020, this book touches on just about all of the cultural moments that were current then. I enjoyed spending time with this diverse group of characters in this country setting. Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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Our Country Friends is about a group of people who gather in a country house to wait out the pandemic.   It is such a great story.  The characters are wonderfully written even the obnoxious and self-entitled Actor.  It really delves into the feelings we had at the beginning of the pandemic which is relatable.  It is very funny and I think we all can become a little "Stalin in an apron" at times when we are trying to keep people safe and keep things in control.  The story is also heartbreaking at times, I can't say much more without ruining things.  I found it interesting to see how the wealthy fared at the beginning of things, seems people are more alike than not, except for being able to order endless amounts of things for delivery.  All in all, it was a fantastic book.  I can't wait to read more by this author.
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I am a fan of Gary Shteyngart. I really enjoyed his last book Lake Success. I'm afraid I had trouble getting into this one. I stopped about a third of the way through and haven't picked it up again. None of the characters really grabbed me. There was nothing driving me to continue reading. 

He is still a great writer. This one just didn't excite me. Take a sample. Maybe it'll work for you. 

Netgalley provided me an e-galley in return for this review.
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True to Shteyngart's style, Our Country Friends includes all the irreverent and absurd humor we're grown accustomed to. But applied to a pandemic that is not yet in the past, the novel packed a different kind of gut punch that added a deliciously uncomfortable feeling to the reading experience. The characters reminded me a bit of those from the show Friends from College. Taking a few people with shared history and throwing in a few curveballs makes for some hilarious and awkward interactions. This isn't to say it's an entirely comedic novel, because it certainly contains the darkness appropriate for a book taking place during the times of COVID. Shteyngart just happens to throw it all together in a messy way that works because it mimics life.
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Alexander (Sandy) Senderovsky was a Russian immigrant who spent a part of his Queens childhood in bungalow colonies for other immigrants in the Catskills. So when he became a successful author, he bought a home on a large piece of property in that area and surrounded it with small themed bungalows.
Covid forced people out of NYC in early 2020 and so Sandy took his wife Masha, a psychiatric doctor, and their adopted daughter, Natasha, to live in their country house. He also invited five friends and associates to join them. The group included high school friends, Karen Cho and Vinod Mehta. Also Ed Kim, a sophisticated friend of Karen’s, Dee Cameron, a former student of Sasha’s and the Actor who was working to create a television series based on one of Sasha’s books. 
Once the group settles in for a 6 month quarantine, new friendships took hold. Old betrayals were  exposed and several  new romances began. 
This is the second ARC that I have read recently about the Covid pandemic and its effects on people. It probably won’t be the last. I enjoyed the humorous situations presented by the author however I did not find any of the characters likable. I also found the transition to earlier events involving Sasha, Vinod and Karen to be confusing. 
I received this ARC from the publisher and Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
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What happens when six friends, fueled by plenty of alcohol, are together during lockdown? We’re far from placing the pandemic in the rearview mirror but the immensely talented Shteyngart studies what could go wrong (and right) under such a pressure cooker environment. Alternatively funny and pithy, the novel gives off Big Chill-esque vibes. The story displays a powerful grasp of  class divides and the pressures on progressives seething in the Trumpian era. Overall though, the novel feels half-baked, the bows too neatly tied together in the end. A worthy addition to an impressive body of work but not my favorite.
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Honestly, I just couldn't get into this novel. It just seemed like a group of friends where everyone wanted to sleep with everyone else but their societal rules and personal hangups prevented it. Yes there is some discussion of class, race and social privileges but it comes from such a white male POV that it's dry. For example, Nat is a Korean adoptee of the family. One of her main defining characteristics is that she loves BTS and her white parents are bewildered. Her mom, Masha, is angry when she starts to learn Korean. Overall, I felt disconnected from the story.
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