Review: Lake Success
Gary Shteyngart's novel takes a witty bite out of the 0.01%
By Jay Trachtenberg,
11:40AM, Thu. Sep. 13, 2018
Gary Shteyngart has left for the lake. Well, not the novelist – known for his bestseller Super Sad True Love Story – but his new book's lead, a hedge-fund manager running away from his life. In advance of Shteyngart's appearance at BookPeople on Fri., Sept. 14, the Chronicle offers this appraisal of Lake Success.
by Gary Shteyngart
Random House, 328 pp., $28
For someone who came to this country from the Soviet Union as a 7 year old, living in an outer New York City borough without a television and speaking primarily Russian at home, Gary Shteyngart has certainly made up for lost time in offering razor-sharp insights into an America on the cusp of electing a narcissistic reality-TV personality for President. Shteyngart is known for his biting satire, but in this, his fourth novel and his first with an American protagonist, he plumbs some our nation’s darker instincts and in so doing questions our fundamental values. The book opens with Barry Cohen, a multi-millionaire hedge-fund manager taking a Greyhound bus from NYC’s Port Authority to find his long-ago college sweetheart who he thinks might be living in Richmond, Va. With his marriage in tatters, he suddenly leaves his beautiful Tamil wife and young autistic son, trashing his smart phone and Amex card at the bus depot. Perhaps he’s looking for a new start or desires a journey of self-discovery. Along the way, as he meets an inner-city drug dealer, reunites with a former colleague, and searches for that old college girlfriend through her parents, we learn of impending situations, legal and perhaps otherwise, that haunt this self-absorbed, .1%er who impresses dinner guests with $33,000 a bottle whiskey and obsesses over his ridiculously expensive wristwatch collection. In alternating chapters, we learn that Barry’s wife Seema, in her longing for love and connection, starts an affair with a neighbor in their building while at the same time forging a much needed, supportive friendship with his wife. It is, however, primarily through Barry, an all-too-easy target as a self-described “moderate Republican, socially liberal,” that Shteyngart offers up his most insightful, scathing, and witty assessments of a contemporary America throttled with racial tensions, income disparity, corporate malfeasance, political corruption, ethical compromise, … you name it. With the story taking place just months before the 2016 presidential election, the mere occasional mention of Mr. Trump and his perceived omnipresence makes it feel as though the author is unfurling this wonderfully entertaining novel directly in the present tense.