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Review: Lake Success

A book that is probably unreadable if written by a lesser writer becomes passably entertaining thanks to terrific writing.

In Lake Success, two relatively terrible human beings transform, thanks to the series of events that make up the book's plot, into merely annoying people.

One of these people is Princeton Alumnus and hedge fund manager Barry Cohen; the other is his wife, Indian-American lawyer Seema. What sets the plot in motion are the dual blows of a) a pending SEC investigation aimed at Barry's crumbling fund and b) the Cohen's son's autism diagnosis. As a result, Barry embarks on a Greyhound bus odyssey of the United States; Seema embarks on an extramarital affair. Stuff happens. Revelations are had. The end.

Several reviews of Lake Success have stated how the book suffers from the fact that the two main characters are so unlikeable. I beg to differ. The problem is less that these characters are unlikeable (they are!), but that they are uninteresting, unlikeable in the most pedestrian of ways. They aren't fascinating villains; they're just that obnoxious couple you met at your friend's dinner party last week.

And yet... SOMEHOW the book is surprisingly readable. Such is a testament to the strength of Gary Shteyngart's writing. The guy is a pro. Despite how grating I found much of the subject matter, I also found the book often laugh-out-loud funny. Several times the book managed to put me in the uncomfortable position of simultaneously having me root for and against the characters. I wanted them to get what they wanted, all the while realizing that they couldn't get what they wanted, that they didn't deserve to get what they wanted, and that giving them what they wanted would be a travesty of the cosmic justice we all want to believe in where shitty people eventually get their comeuppance.

In the end, Lake Success left me feeling both impressed and disappointed. Gary Shteyngart is clearly a great writer. Now if only he can find a plot and characters worthy of his greatness...



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