Lake Success (Shteyngart)

Lake Success 
Gary Shteyngart, 2018
Random House
352 pp.

The bestselling author of Super Sad True Love Story returns with a biting, brilliant, emotionally resonant novel very much of our times.

Narcissistic, hilariously self-deluded, and divorced from the real world as most of us know it, hedge-fund manager Barry Cohen oversees $2.4 billion in assets.

Deeply stressed by an SEC investigation and by his three-year-old son’s diagnosis of autism, he flees New York on a Greyhound bus in search of a simpler, more romantic life with his old college sweetheart.

Meanwhile, his super-smart wife, Seema—a driven first-generation American who craved the picture-perfect life that comes with wealth—has her own demons to face.

How these two flawed characters navigate the Shteyngartian chaos of their own making is at the heart of this piercing exploration of the 0.1 Percent, a poignant tale of familial longing and an unsentimental ode to what really makes America great. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Birth—July 5, 1972
Where—Leningrad, USSR
Education—B.A., Oberlin College (Ohio); M.F.A., Hunter College (NYC)
Awards—Stephen Crane Award; National Jewish Book Award
Currently—lives in New York, New York

Gary Shteyngart (born Igor Semyonovich Shteyngart) is an American writer born in Leningrad, USSR. Much of his work is satirical and relies on the invention of elaborately fictitious yet somehow familiar places and times.

Shteyngart spent the first seven years of his childhood living in a square dominated by a huge statue of Vladimir Lenin in what is now St. Petersburg, Russia; (he alternately calls it "St. Leningrad" or "St. Leninsburg"). He comes from a Jewish family and describes his family as typically Soviet. His father worked as an engineer in a LOMO camera factory; his mother was a pianist.

In 1979 when Gary was 7, the Shteyngart family immigrated to the United States, where he was brought up with no television in his family's New York City apartment and where English was not the household language. He did not shed his thick Russian accent until the age of 14.

Later Shteyngart traveled to Prague, an experience that inspired his first novel, set in the fictitious European city of Prava. He is a graduate of Stuyvesant High School in New York City; Oberlin College in Ohio, where he earned a degree in politics; and Hunter College of the City University of New York, where he earned an MFA in Creative Writing.

Writing career
Shteyngart took a trip to Prague which inspired his first novel, The Russian Debutante's Handbook (2002), which is set in the fictitious European city of Prava. He has published two more novels: Absurdistan (2006) and Super Sad True Love Story (2010). His fourth book, Little Failure (2014), is a memoir recounting his family's emigration to the U.S. in 1979.

His other writing has appeared in The New Yorker, Slate, Granta, Travel and Leisure, and The New York Times.

Shteyngart's work has received numerous awards. The Russian Debutante's Handbook won the Stephen Crane Award for First Fiction, the Book-of-the-Month Club First Fiction Award and the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction. It was named a New York Times Notable Book and one of the best debuts of the year by The Guardian. In 2002, he was named one of the five best new writers by Shout NY Magazine. Absurdistan was chosen as one of the ten best books of the year by the New York Times Book Revieww and Time magazine, as well as a book of the year by the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle and many other publications. In June 2010, Shteyngart was named as one of The New Yorker magazine's "20 under 40" luminary fiction writers. Super Sad True Love Story won the 2011 Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize for comic literature.

Shteyngart now lives in New York City. He has taught writing at Hunter College, and currently teaches writing at Columbia University. During the Fall of 2007, he also had a fellowship at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany.

Shteyngart is married to Esther Won who is of Korean descent. In October 2013, they became parents to Johnny Won Shteyngart. (Adapted from Wikipedia. Retrieved 2/14/2014.)

Book Reviews
Shteyngart, perhaps more than any American writer of his generation…is a natural. He is light, stinging, insolent and melancholy, to borrow the words the critic Kenneth Tynan kept on his writing desk to remind himself how to sound. The wit and the immigrant's sense of heartbreak…just seem to pour from him. The idea of riding along behind Shteyngart as he glides across America in the early age of Trump is a propitious one. He doesn't disappoint.
Dwight Garner - New York Times

[P]ungent…frisky and so intent on probing the dissonances …that grip this strange land getting stranger.… In Lake Success, Gary Shteyngart holds his adopted country up to the light, turns it, squints, turns it some more, and finds himself grimacing and laughing in almost equal measure.
Jonathan Miles - New York Times Book Review

[F]unny yet resoundingly mournful.…Shteyngart does slapstick as well as ever, but he stakes out new terrain in the expert way he develops his characters’ pathos…. There are some rough edges …but this is nevertheless a stylish, big-hearted novel.
Publishers Weekly

(Starred review) Shteyngart’s latest is a hilarious, melancholic, and rapier-sharp tale for our times.
Library Journal

(Starred review) For all his caustic critique and propulsive plotting, Shteyngart is a writer of empathic imagination, ultimately steering this bristling, provocative, sharply comedic, yet richly compassionate novel toward enlightenment and redemption. —Donna Seaman

(Starred review) As good as anything we’ve seen from this author: smart, relevant, fundamentally warm-hearted, hilarious of course, and it has a great ending.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
We'll add publisher questions if and when they're available; in the meantime, use our LitLovers talking points to help start a discussion for LAKE SUCCESS … then take off on your own:

1. In what way does Gary Shteyngart's Lake Success attempt to capture an era—our era—with its angst, class divisions, corruption, giddy optimism and bleak pessimism?

2. What do you think of Barry Cohen? In what way is he representative of our era? Barry is rife with contradictions: he is both greedy and generous, gregarious and introverted, confident and needy, a creature of Wall Street and a drifter. How do you seem him—is he on one side of these qualities or the other? Or can a person be both? Do you have sympathy for Barry? At first? Later in the novel? Or never?

3. Follow-up to Question 2: Speaking of contradictions, how does Barry's belief in his own generous nature rub up against his political beliefs?

4. Describe Seema. Do you find her a sympathetic character? What does she mean about feeling "guilty in front of all the people who would never know the fruits of the global order"?

5. Seema accuses Barry of lacking a soul. Is she right?

6. How does their child's autism diagnosis affect Barry and Seema? How do they cope, or not cope? What insights do we gain into the struggle of raising a beloved child with special needs?

7. Is Barry running from something … or running toward something? Does he know which?

8. What makes Barry, well… Barry? What do we come to learn about his past that has shaped his adult self?

9. Is there redemption for Barry? For Seema? Do you root for either one or both?
(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online and off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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