Love in the time of COVID.
by Rebecca Hardiman
I love a funny book and author Gary Shteyngart’s newest novel, Our Country Friends, is a very funny book. It’s also a super-fresh, moving tale that follows a pack of friends (and one self-important Hollywood actor) as they ride out the pandemic together with hilarity and hijinks. Even better: it was penned—and is set—in the Catskills. Shteyngart, best known for 2010’s Super Sad True Love Story, grew up summering in these parts—and it shows. Lucky for us, the satirist, who lives both here and in Manhattan, gamely agreed to answer our most pressing questions.
Is your place in the Catskills similar to the compound you portray in the book?
It’s in the Greater Rhinebeck area. Sadly, I only have one guest house, so there’s no room for the crazy shenanigans that take place in my book. But like Sasha, the protagonist, I do have a nice, covered porch and beautiful meadows all around.
How key was having a sense of humor when you and yours decamped to the Catskills during the pandemic?
It was BYOH—Bring Your Own Humor. In the book, there’s a restaurant that’s known for its hand sanitizer and there was one in Hudson I kept returning to because the sanitizer was so nice. The food was OK, too.
Why did you choose the Catskills as opposed to, say, the Hamptons?
I spent my summers in a Russian bungalow colony in the Catskills and it was the best part of my childhood. I’ve been in love ever since. What are the Hamptons?
Time to reveal your favorite local spot.
I love walking Mills Mansion right at the edge of the Hudson. What a lovely hike!
How would the book been different if you’d written it in New York City?
It would suck.