Gary Shteyngart’s Unlikable Comic Novel About Unlikable People
Is this the worst time in history to try to enjoy a comic novel about a narcissistic multi-millionaire hedge fund mensch who abandons his Indian wife and autistic son to ride a Greyhound bus cross country with only his fancy watch collection to keep him company? Based on a survey of one, I say “Yeah, duh.” I usually find Gary Shteyngart’s humor and sly insights into American culture a delight. But due in no small part to our country being run by entitled assholes, I struggled to stay invested in the travails of Lake Success’ whiny one-percenter Barry Cohen. Actually, “struggled to stay invested” is a nice way to say, “Muttered ‘who gives a shit?’ throughout 300-plus pages.”
Of course, by not thinking this novel about a man behaving badly is a masterpiece, I find myself in the minority. Critics have hailed it as a “hilarious triumph.” Oops, I mean “white male critics.” I just checked the top reviews. Besides NPR, that’s who wrote them. White male critics. Go figure.
That said, there’s equal opportunity to dislike the females in “Lake Success,” most notably Barry’s 29-year-old Yale Law-educated wife, Seema. She struggles with her new identity as a rich person and with Trump running for office. Therefore, she launches an affair with the downstairs neighbor, an icky novelist who passes himself off as Latino (but he’s basically just another white male asshole). He might actually be more unlikable than Barry. It’s really a horserace. When Seema’s immigrant parents finally fly in from Cleveland to help with her son Shiva, they bring a a blast of finally-some-decent-people fresh air.
Rest assured that once you get tired of the many unlikable characters committing non-stop adultery with other unlikable characters in Lake Success, the book also contains long paragraphs about fancy watch winding, everyone’s ethnicity, the SEC, and what the mountains in El Paso look at various times of the day. Of course, it’s up to you if you still decide to read this novel. Just know you’d have more fun riding an actual Greyhound bus.
(Random House, September 4, 2018)