This week, Vox Tablet invites listeners to consider some unconventional summer reading. Gary Shteyngart and Joshua Cohen have both come out with new novels that paint a very dark picture of the future. In Super Sad True Love Story, Shteyngart envisions a not-so-distant world in which the United States is a crumbling, militarized empire, public and private life are indistinguishable and projected for all to see through social networking technologies, and the reading of books is a lost art. In Cohen’s novel Witz, a mysterious plague has claimed the lives of all but one of the world’s Jews, and that last Jew, Benjamin Israelien, is subject to the passions of a public that is equal parts philo- and anti-Semitic.
The novelists take their dystopian visions in radically different directions—Shteyngart has written a fast-moving love story, while Cohen’s is more stream-of-Jewish-consciousness, dense with wordplay and religious and cultural references. Tablet Magazine Editor-in-Chief Alana Newhouse sat down with the two of them for a sometimes bookish, other times bawdy, conversation over drinks and smoked fish, on a sweltering summer day on the boardwalk of Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach.