Uneven and slightly indulgent, Gary Shteyngart’s fourth novel, Lake Success, nevertheless charms thanks to the author’s trademark warm-hearted humor and practiced satirical eye. Hedge fund manager Barry Cohen hasn’t been a success in work or family life. Though the fund he manages has hit the $2 billion mark, he’s being questioned about insider trading; his younger wife, Seema, is growing less interested in him by the day; and his 3-year-old son, Shiva, is autistic. There’s only one thing for Barry to do: run away.
So he does, tossing his smartphone and black AmEx to the wayside and boarding a Greyhound in his Citibank vest. Maybe, Barry thinks, reuniting with his college girlfriend is the answer to his problems. Juxtaposed with Barry’s picaresque journey is Seema’s more mundane—if life in a luxurious Manhattan apartment can be said to be mundane—set of challenges as she tries to accept Shiva’s limitations and embarks on an affair with a neighbor.
Caught up in the chaos of the 2016 presidential campaign, the fractured country reflects the fractures in Barry’s soul, and as ever, Shteyngart reveals America’s frailties with darkly mocking humor that never swerves into nihilism. He is likewise forgiving of his characters’ many failings. In the case of Barry, that indulgence is occasionally frustrating: Given his many privileges and avoidance of responsibility, the self-pity and lack of self-awareness Barry demonstrates for nearly the entire novel becomes tiresome. Nevertheless, the verve of Shteyngart’s writing keeps the pages turning and makes Lake Success an overall winner for readers.