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Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart
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Lake Success (2018)

by Gary Shteyngart

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Apparently, the book will become a mini-series on HBO. That kind of makes me like it less. ( )
  ShelBeck | Jul 10, 2019 |
An American road trip, a satirical swipe at modern America, a state of the nation novel…. Whatever you want to call it ‘Lake Success’ plays out the fall and rise of Barry Cohen, a super-rich hedge fund manager, against the backdrop of the 2016 Presidential election and the election of Donald Trump.

This was my first experience of a Shteyngart novel and whilst I found it quite well written and reasonably amusing at times, I wasn’t convinced by the narrative and the characters are pretty unlikeable. Suffering a minor breakdown, Cohen flees his wife and autistic son, is on the run from the FBI investigating his financial affairs, and embarks on a Greyhound bus journey across the entire landmass of the USA. This gives Shteyngart enormous scope to explore issues of wealth, race and society in general in an America tearing itself apart with political division. On the way Cohen ditches his mobile phone and his bank cards, becoming so destitute that he has to resort to begging on the streets for his bus fare. His journey concludes with a pilgrimage to his father’s graveside in San Diego – but there is no cosy redemption here, for the headstone doesn’t even mention the son. The novel then, in my opinion, tries too hard to reach some sort of resolution. Cohen is fined and not imprisoned for his financial mismanagement, and the novel then races through years of some kind of flashforward as the characters speed through 10 years in a small number of pages. The final image, of Cohen rebuilding one of his beloved watches for his son, is an obvious metaphor for his fall and apparent coming to terms with his new situation: divorced, trying to rebuild his relationship with his son – but still insanely rich. As he surveys his handiwork on the watch he thinks: ‘he had made a beautiful thing whole again.’

I see that other reviewers have called this in the tradition of the so-called Great American Novel. For me, this isn’t. It was a diverting enough read, and does take a bitterly satirical swipe at some of the less salubrious sides of 21st century American society and politics, but maybe it is too early for writers and novelists fully to be able to address the impact of Trump – distance is often better with these things. I felt that the book lacks heart, and warmth, and whilst it is well-written I couldn’t really engage with it. But then again, maybe that’s how we are meant to react to the characters?

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this book in return for an honest and unbiased review.) ( )
  Alan.M | Apr 16, 2019 |
The book that I wanted to end sooner. Much sooner. Painful stereotypes, a principle character that is detestable and goes on and on. The book also goes on and on, thankfully not every thought or stop on the Greyhound Bus is in the book. Of course the timing of the book is a parallel to the campaign and the election of Trump. This parallel seems rather convenient for a rather boring story. ( )
  deldevries | Apr 10, 2019 |
LAKE SUCCESS is Gary Shteyngart mustering his prodigious skillset for satire, compassion, and humor to render his view of America today. He cleverly filters this through a character who is all too reminiscent of Trump. Barry Cohen is validated almost exclusively through money and possessions. At bottom, he is an intensely narcissistic and delusional grifter. Not unlike America, these flaws exist alongside aspirations for altruism and beneficence. Indeed, Shteyngart captures the fundamental American political dichotomy—fear of being shamed (R’s) versus guilt for not being better (D’s). Along with this larger ambition, the novel also folds in the challenges faced by parents of autistic children and the psychoses associated with white male privilege.

The story begins and ends in Manhattan (of course), but manages to show us America from a Greyhound bus much like Simon and Garfunkel did in the 60’s. Barry’s “look for America” comes in Baltimore (drug dealers), Richmond (liberal middle class), Atlanta (financial strivers), Jackson (old confederacy), El Paso/Juarez (immigrants), Phoenix (homeless) and finally Southern California (the American Dream). In less skilled hands, his random journey through America might seem shopworn, but Shteyngart’s writing renders his encounters vividly with satire and humor. As an immigrant himself, Shteyngart captures well the feelings that come from cultural dislocation.

Barry has convinced himself that this journey (without his black Amex card or cell phone, but with his collection of hugely expensive watches) in search of his college sweetheart will reclaim the happiness he somehow lost along the way (MAGA hat anyone?). Of course, even the casual reader knows he is kidding himself. Barry is running from a failed marriage to a trophy wife, an autistic son he can’t relate to despite being on the spectrum himself, and the law.

The novel’s biggest flaw is Barry. This is a guy few would want to spend much time with, let alone an entire book. He is a running joke that never fails to provoke loathing despite the laughs. Unfortunately his self-involvement and shallowness fail to provoke empathy. Shteyngart tries to show some sense of redemption for Barry with an unbelievable ending that may be too little and too late for most. ( )
  ozzer | Feb 18, 2019 |
Not a bad book, The author, a well known funnyman, gets more serious with this story snd the book does not work. The story involves a hedge fund operator, Barry Cohen, from the Bronx, natch. his Tamil wife, Seema,
and their 3year old autistic son,Shiva. '''the main part of the plot has BC getting on a Greyhound bus at Port
Authority to Richmond and then El Paso to hook up with Layla, a college love of BC. If you thought that the US
road trip was satirical, forget it. If you thought a NYC hedgie was satirical, forget that too. The only thing that I
took away was that watch prices keep going up because hedgies and the author keep buying them. (JPH)

This novel sounds interesting -- a story about marital crisis, financial crisis, and a quest for the real America in the age of Trump, all among the hyper-rich. And on top of that, the reviews said, it was funny funny funny. Well, it is funny, if a lot of the humor is simply derived from cataloguing the shibboleths and class markers of the 0.1%. But funny, in this case, was not enough for me. The only emotion that the "hero's" adventures evoked in me was embarrassment, the kind you feel in a movie when you know a character is about to do something disgusting. And his wife didn't spark much more empathy despite her very real problems. Disappointing, given some of his earlier books. (APM) ( )
  annbury | Feb 6, 2019 |
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Barry Cohen, a man with 2.4 billion dollars of assets under management, staggered into the Port Authority Bus Terminal.
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"When his dream of the perfect marriage, the perfect son, and the perfect life implodes, a Wall Street millionaire takes a cross-country bus trip in search of his college sweetheart and ideals of youth. Myopic, narcissistic, hilariously self-deluded and divorced from the real world as most of us know it, hedge fund manager Barry Cohen oversees $2.4 billion in assets. Deeply stressed by an SEC investigation and by his 3 year-old-son's diagnosis of autism, he flees New York on a Greyhound bus in search of a simpler, more romantic life with his old college sweetheart, whom he hasn't seen or spoken to in years. Meanwhile, reeling from the fight that caused Barry's departure, his super-smart wife Seema--a driven first-generation American who craved a picture-perfect life, with all the accoutrements of a huge bank account--has her own demons to face"--… (more)

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