cover image Lake Success

Lake Success

Gary Shteyngart. Random House, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9741-5

A wealthy, self-deluded New York hedge funder sees America by the grim light of a Greyhound bus in Shteyngart’s funny yet resoundingly mournful latest (after the memoir Little Failure). When a very drunk Barry Cohen stumbles into New York’s Port Authority bus station, he convinces himself he’s embarking on a Kerouac-esque journey to find himself. In reality, he’s fleeing a failing marriage, the responsibilities of being the father to a severely autistic three-year-old son, and a potential SEC investigation. As Barry rattles around the country—he buys crack in Baltimore, shacks up with an ex-girlfriend in El Paso, Tex., hits rock bottom in Phoenix—his wife, Seema, the overachieving daughter of Indian immigrants, moves on romantically and does her best to ensure her son, Shiva, gets proper care while trying to keep his diagnosis a secret from friends and family. Barry is pathologically eager to please, full of good intentions that he rarely manages to follow through on, and the pity he elicits in the reader is genuine. Seema, though, is a bit of a puzzler, and readers will have trouble reconciling her driven, bristly personality with some of the decisions she makes. Shteyngart does slapstick as well as ever, but he stakes out new terrain in the expert way he develops his characters’ pathos—particularly in depictions of Barry’s and Seema’s relationships with Shiva. There are some rough edges—secondary characters tend to feel like types or props, and many of the couple’s problems are the kind that money (which they have plenty of) can either fix or greatly reduce—but this is nevertheless a stylish, big-hearted novel. Shteyngart made his name as a sharp satirist, and he’ll undoubtedly widen his appeal with this effort. (Sept.)