Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart

While not quite as gripping as the last book I read, I really enjoyed this one too.  It's nice to be on a bit of a roll.

This is the story of Barry Cohen, he is a multimillionaire hedge fund manager whose life is beginning to implode.  His son is diagnosed with severe autism, his beautiful and intelligent wife is so immersed in their son she has little time for him, and his business is losing money and rumours of an SEC investigation are swirling about.  So what does the narcissistic Cohen do?  He hops on a series of Greyhound buses to travel from his home in Manhattan to seek out his college sweetheart in El Paso, Texas.

Cohen is so clueless about how the real world works that his travels and the encounters he has with his travelling companions are nothing short of hilarious.  In Baltimore he meets a young drug dealer who he dreams of setting up in business.  Further along he meets a young black woman who he thinks he could befriend, but instead sleeps with her before she returns to her life.  He then arrives at the Chicago home of an employee who he fired hoping to get a loan to fund his further travels (in a fit of "independence" he threw out his phone and tore up his Amex Black card).  That request goes about as well as a more insightful person would have expected.  He does eventually make it to visit first his ex's parents and then his ex and her young son - but they seem to remember better than he does why the relationship didn't work in the first place.  Cohen's ramblings and obsessions inevitably lead to speculation that he is somewhere on the autism spectrum himself.

In interspersed chapters we see how Cohen's wife Seema is dealing with both his absence and their son.  First she begins an affair with a neighbour.  Then she decides to admit to her parents that her son has autism.  The latter works out better for her than the former.

Eventually Cohen is forced to return home and deal with the mess he left behind.  I liked the ending - it seemed to flow naturally from the narrative.  And quirky Cohen, despite his egocentrism, was a character I really enjoyed getting to know.

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