Adjust your expectations when you pick up Gary Shteyngart’s Lake Success. His new book is not insanely funny nor hilariously absurd. It’s better than that. A mature blending of the author’s signature wit and melancholy, Lake Success feels timely but not fleeting ... There’s something uncanny about Shteyngart’s ability to inhabit this man’s boundless confidence, his neediness, his juvenile tendency to fall in love and imagine everyone as a life-changing friend ... comedy and pathos are exquisitely balanced.
There's life in the old road trip saga yet. That's just one of the many things that Gary Shteyngart's spectacular, sprawling new novel, Lake Success, affirms ... More than 'just' an artistic tour de force, Lake Success aims—and succeeds—in saying something big about America today ... He captures what one of his own favorite writers, Philip Roth, once called 'the indigenous American berserk' but he's not, in turn captured and disfigured by it. He imagines that there might yet be another fork in the road, another highway rest stop, another snoring American right beside you, dreaming their own great American dream.
...a rollicking, uproariously funny, bitingly satiric yet also warm and big-hearted novel ... But Barry is no simple caricature ... A few of the comic subplots, especially the one involving a crack rock, strain the limits of credulity, even for Shteyngart’s absurd universe, and homoerotic elements to Barry’s relationships with several men feel distracting ... Lake Success feels both linguistically fecund and emotionally robust. Zingers abound, but so do genuinely touching moments.
...the fuel and oxygen of immigrant literature—movement, exile, nostalgia, cultural disorientation—are nevertheless what fire the pistons of this trenchant and panoramic novel. Shteyngart’s subject may be America, but it’s Trump’s America: seething, atomizing, foreign and hostile even to itself ... The alternating Seema chapters lack the antic verve of Barry’s, and not only because Barry is high-tailing his way across America while Seema is back in their apartment scheduling therapists for their son. With Barry, the reader senses (and shares) Shteyngart’s glee as he sinks pin after pin into his finance-bro voodoo doll. With Seema, however, the reader discerns authorial restraint, even remorse ... Shteyngart finds muchness everywhere he looks, reveling in a surfeit of Americana, and chief among this novel’s pleasures is viewing the nation—its landscapes, its people, its curdled politics, its increasingly feudal inequalities — through the vibrant filters of Shteyngart’s Hipstamatic mind.
This book, like a radio station whose frequency you can’t quite catch, keeps losing you. It keeps tipping over and then righting itself again, like a bottom-weighted inflatable unicorn. Lake Success keeps righting itself for many reasons. First among them is that Shteyngart, perhaps more than any American writer of his generation (he’s 46), is a natural. He is light, stinging, insolent and melancholy ... The wit and the immigrant’s sense of heartbreak—he was born in Russia—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 ... This busy, squirming, roomy novel has a tidy ending, one that too neatly dispenses prizes and gives Barry a stab at redemption ... Is Barry hollow or is he holy? Shteyngart’s prose holds you in a way that Barry himself never does.
And because of the timing, the geography of the South and the West, the political references, and the poor and middle-class people Barry meets on his travels, Lake Success presents itself as a book about America. But Barry is just a tourist in America. Lake Success is really a New York story, and a good one ... Barry is not a nice guy, and like most of Shteyngart’s heroes his obnoxious qualities are so complete and so overwhelming as to create an almost sympathetic innocence and naiveté ... Lake Success follows someone trying to find an answer, a simpler and purer life. But the novel is not about simplicity or purity at all. It is about complications, tangles and knots, muddied expectations and outcomes. Emotions ripple any surface, shudder against conflicting emotions, leaving waves of questions and doubt ... Lake Success is moodier, less showy than his earlier novels...
We meet the Donald’s supporters and detractors, though fortunately the political dialogues aren’t heavy-handed. Yet they are what will eventually date the novel. As for explaining why that man is president of the United States, the musings of this motley and diverse cast still left me bewildered ... Shteyngart writes with verve, packing his prose with piquant details that stay just shy of full-on satire. That literary energy carries the reader a long way. However, the road novel’s episodic structure tends to fritter momentum over time. At a midpoint, I’d had enough quirky characters and wanted off the bus. What rescues this road novel is, ironically, switches back to the folks back home who stay put. Much sunny, sentimental obfuscation has been penned about parenting an autistic child, and Lake Success contains none of it. (OK, this subplot’s conclusion is infeasibly optimistic, but formal literary obligations may have applied.) ...
Compassionate but realistic, Shteyngart’s portrayals of the exhaustion, sorrow and tiny hard-won breakthroughs of raising a kid on the spectrum make for his most compelling chapters. My primary problem with the novel is the void at its center ... Barry is just what you’d expect, and a passion for watches, a typically material attachment, can’t lift him from brilliantly crafted cliché. That blankness at its heart keeps a pretty good book from rising to delightful.
Mr. Shteyngart is an esteemed comic novelist, but what’s the joke here? A white guy listening to rap music? Cohen’s journey toward reinvention, which carries him to the West Coast, slumming it with 'real' Americans all the way, is self-evidently bigoted and stupid, yet Mr. Shteyngart is strenuously determined to squeeze something redemptive from it ... The characters are cartoons, yet we’re supposed to find them representative and profound. Which gave me a sickly feeling, I have to say. I don’t like to bring politics into this column, but it’s rare that I’ve encountered a novel that seemed so cynically engineered to pander to the biases of its readership ... A good satire explodes its readers’ assumptions, but Lake Success unctuously celebrates them.
Shteyngart, the author of Absurdistan and Super Sad True Love Story, is an observant writer who knows what to do when a good idea smacks him in the face ... His new novel Lake Success combines the passive-aggressive takeover of New York by the Bros of Wall Street — a subject worthy of Tom Wolfe — with a road novel that echoes Kerouac’s buzzy restlessness and Nabokov’s sly observations. It’s Shteyngart’s best book, a deeper dive into what’s happening now with a plaintive edge that fits the moment.
Barry is hard to sympathize with, but his worldview is entertainingly Swiftian, absurdly upside-down ... Shteyngart often shuttles between mocking Barry and pillorying him, which makes for lively writing either way. He’s a study in outsize narcissism, a bubble that needs popping ... But here’s the most pointed message of Lake Success: Guys like Barry are always going to be OK, saved by their money and privilege. Shteyngart is careful not to make Barry a black hat—his interactions with his autistic son are compassionately rendered, and Barry is more dim than craven. But a nice guy who does not-nice work serves as a warning as well as a punch line ... He has no advice on how to change the odds, but he’s put a spotlight on how the game is rigged.
...beneath the humour, Shteyngart’s spin is caustic and angry ... These encounters are vivid and funny ... The book teems with his damning, authoritative judgments about people based on their attainments and net worth ... Lake Success is spiky, timely and true, but also absolutely comfortless. That’s perhaps not surprising, given the times, but it’s also something to do with its choice of central character. The book contains many homages to The Great Gatsby, but it resembles a version of that novel where the lunkish proto-fascist Tom Buchanan is the hero ... Shteyngart manages to pull off a rather lovely denouement that elegantly weaves together some of the main thematic threads in a small act of reparation.
Barry may be a figure of fun, but it’s still unpleasant to spend so much time with his chauvinism ('he never remembered women’s names' but gets plenty of them to sleep with him), which isn’t fully tempered by alternating chapters from Seema’s perspective. Setting him up as a white savior figure, even if that is undercut by his bad luck (before the bus tour is over he’s panhandling with a cardboard sign) means the novel’s attitude toward the lower classes, immigrants and the disabled veers toward condescending ... To the extent that Barry is a stand-in for Donald Trump (sleazy rich guys who get away with misconduct), the epilogue seems to turn the novel into a morality tale by giving its antihero a second chance to be a decent father. If this lousy human being can be redeemed, perhaps one can hold out hope for the restoration of the whole country? One suspects the message is neither so simplistic nor so rosy. Pitched somewhere between the low point of 'Make America Great Again' and the loftiness of the Great American novel, Lake Success may not achieve the profundity it’s aiming for, but it’s still a biting portrait of an all-too-recognizable America where money is God and villains gets off easy.
Gary Shteyngart’s Lake Success is a novel centered on Americans’ nostalgia for the Greyhound bus. But it’s also a novel that skewers us for that nostalgia ... As satire, Lake Success is brilliant, yet Shteyngart seems to be reaching for something more ... Shteyngart emphasizes that Barry and his fellow plutocrats are responsible for our present political mess and that no road trip through the heartland can assuage that. Not only is Barry not as funny as we’d hoped, he lacks the modicum of self-reflection needed to pull off a narrative arc. Narcissists make for lousy presidents and off-putting protagonists — 350 pages is a long time to spend with such self-centered New Yorkers.
Shteyngart offers us a timely exploration of American commonplaces made unfamiliar by summer heat and political strife ... Only for a nanosecond does Shteyngart—having sustained a novel’s worth of reflections about America without his usual patina of Soviet Jewishness—tease at the characters of his former oeuvre ... Yet, there are good reasons to read Lake Success in light of Shteyngart’s earlier fiction ... In Lake Success, Shteyngart makes a leap from these exaggerated post-socialist landscapes and plunges us into the brutal reality hidden in plain sight right here in the US of A ... It feels exaggerated only ever so slightly—as if by a skilled satirist—and reveals that which America has been all along.
...it can’t help but seem a little well-trodden all the same. Shteyngart empathetically draws the divide between Barry’s privilege and the struggles faced by those he comes into contact with, though not without a little inevitable condescension...This is indicative less of an intriguing character flaw than a weakness in Shteyngart’s characterization. Lake Success untangles major themes, with a wicked feel for modern life’s aimless chatter, but it’s lacking in soul ... Perhaps it’s the nature of what feels fresh, sharp, and needed in this bizarre new world. For what can yet another entitled, delusional, wealthy white man tell us about where we’ve gone wrong?
Lake Success is often satiric, deploying the same sharp skills as Shteyngart’s earlier novels, like Super Sad True Love Story and The Russian Debutante’s Handbook: a cool control of tone, a Tom Wolfe-level eye for status markers, a knack for making the outrageous sound all too plausible. But Lake Success has depths. Barry might be the oblivious poster boy for white male privilege, but Shteyngart makes us feel for the people around him, especially Seema and their son ... Barry’s journey, and Seema’s and Shiva’s, take unexpected turns. Shteyngart’s satire raises timely questions about the state of our nation; his humane story of a family offers answers.
It would be heartbreaking if it weren't so funny ... Lake Success skewers the whole idea and subculture of Wall Street bankers detail by damning detail, and every detail is so specific and rings so true as to read like a succession of bull’s eye darts. But what keeps the novel from being a glib and cynical satire is how much affection it holds for Barry and all the other poor suckers of Wall Street ... That Shteyngart manages to balance sincere empathy with his subjects with a genuine satirical deconstruction of their culture is what makes Lake Success so compelling ... Barry is not a likeable protagonist, but Lake Success is not a purely cynical novel. Shteyngart draws the character with a kind of mocking tenderness that makes it impossible to completely hate him ... Shteyngart’s voice is quick and stinging. He has an eye for telling details, and he accretes them over the course of the novel until they begin to accumulate in the exact shape of his characters.
It’s an ambitious task: a comic novel that also meditates on recent national events, with a measured dissection of ignorance and inspiration thrown in. Finding the right balance for such a narrative is no easy task; the same is true for creating a protagonist who’s both compelling and ridiculous. Shteyngart asks his readers to empathize with a frequently boorish conservative financier—the sort of person whose politics and position have created untold sadness for many ... There’s more than a little of The Bonfire of the Vanities in Lake Success’s literary DNA—both its bleak view of the wealthy and its sprawling social criticism ... In the hands of some authors, Barry’s road trip would be the stuff of mockery. His many attempts to make cultural inroads with the rest of America are poorly-timed and miscalculated, leaving him even more hopelessly out of touch ... But Shteyngart humanizes Barry by showing his love for his son, and by endowing him with quirks, such as his penchant for rare watches ... In a flashback to a college writing workshop, Barry recalls his professor telling the class that 'the best fiction is the fiction of self-delusion.' This may be true, but in the slapstick Shteyngart has written, he illustrates the darker side of self-delusion as well—and the unsettling places that it can lead.
Good news, comrades. From one of our finest comic novelists comes a work with equal parts smarts and heart to go with the steady hilarity of its plot and prose. Lake Success, by Russian-born Gary Shteyngart, is surely the funniest book of the year, indeed one of the best overall—ultimately, a rueful mash note to the author's adopted country (with an extra kiss blown to the Long Island village of the title). Like comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, Shteyngart mocks us relentlessly for the fools that we are. Unlike Cohen, he loves us all the more.
Gary Shteyngart is good at examining American culture ... an uneven novel that's more somber than Shteyngart's previous work ... Shteyngart wears his research heavily. After a while, one tires of repeated references to the fine points and inner workings of luxury watches and the personality traits they suggest in their owners ... Shteyngart sets up Cohen's dilemma beautifully, and the scenes of Cohen's travels contain gorgeous writing. Secondary characters, however, adhere to stereotypes and aren't fully fleshed out ... Lake Success frequently references Jack Kerouac's On the Road. Some readers might also be reminded of Lolita ... It is in these scenes that Lake Success is at its most powerful and offers the most pointed observations of present-day America ... an apt work for this strange era in American history.
...now the presidential pretender's shadow looms over literature, to the detriment of us all ... One gets the sense from the start of Gary Shteyngart's Lake Success that this is going to be something of a status report on the nation ... Lake Success doesn't fail because Barry is such an unappealing character. It doesn't help that far too much of the novel is taken over by accounts of him flinging himself with increasingly sweaty desperation at one person or another, looking for succor or absolution. The stink of rank embarrassment, humiliation, and forced comedy wafts pungently off the pages but without much sting, like a Smell-o-Vision Ben Stiller movie or dinner-theater A Confederacy of Dunces ... It's difficult to tell what Shteyngart is going for here. It's possible he wasn't quite sure himself.
Shteyngart...skillfully plumbs [protagonist] Barry's psyche. In everything from the size of an apartment to an estimate of another couple's net worth, Barry's lifelong insecurity drives him to an endless process of invidious comparison. And as [his wife] Seema tries to cope with Shiva's severe autism--what the family refers to euphemistically as 'the diagnosis'—without Barry's involvement, Shteyngart offers a painfully realistic portrait of a marriage in crisis. As is the case with most road stories, much of the pleasure of Lake Success lies in the journey, not the destination. And yet Shteyngart brings the book to a close in a post-trip epilogue that's both moving and profoundly satisfying. For all the uneasy feeling of recognition it may provoke, this is a bighearted novel, whose generosity and essentially good nature might leave readers feeling just a little more optimistic about the future than they are when they pick it up.
Lake Success is a wincingly funny, sometimes too-gentle satire of the 1 percent in Trump’s America ... Shteyngart is the latest in a series of prominent novelists ― Salman Rushdie, Meg Wolitzer ― who have explicitly taken on the Trump era in their fiction, and the latest to run into the challenges of creating literature out of such obsessively trodden ground. It’s satisfying to see Lake Success’ buffoonish banker skewered, but it also feels a bit rote ... passages of Lake Success read like snippets from lefty opinion pieces and reporting on conservative voters, but make it fiction ... As the novel wears on, the acuteness with which Shteyngart punctures Barry’s grandiose self-regard comes to coexist with an unearned tenderness, as if the book has begun to buy into Barry’s delusion, to feel pity for his wasted life, to coddle him and even rehabilitate him.
Lake Success is a big-hearted book about many things. It's a brilliant satire of hedge fund managers, their trophy wives and gaudy apartments; a heart-rending but ultimately hopeful account of raising a child on the spectrum; and a raucous celebration of racial, ethnic and gender identity in America today. It also explores the ways large and small that Trump has changed the country, rupturing relationships and forcing people to take sides.
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 ... Shteyngart reveals America’s frailties with darkly mocking humor that never swerves into nihilism. He is likewise forgiving of his characters’ many failings ... Nevertheless, the verve of Shteyngart’s writing keeps the pages turning and makes Lake Success an overall winner for readers.
Because of the depth of characters, beauty of locations, and relatability of the everyday struggles every person deals with, this book captures the interest of a wide audience while questioning the beliefs of our culture ... It is these people, fictional characters based loosely on generalities of our nation but so alive with stories each their own, that lends this story its value. Along with the vibrant characters, the scenery erupts around the characters ... Lake Success showed a honest, real-life struggle of one self-made American family in an eloquent book that even hedge fund managers could enjoy.
Shteyngart’s storytelling is otherwise electric in its suspense and mordant hilarity; his characters are intriguingly and affectingly complex, and, while the action never stops, he still digs deeply into our perceptions of self and family, lies and truth, ambition and success, greed and generosity, love and betrayal, and, most touchingly, what we deem normal and how we respond to differences. Lake Success is a big, busy, amusing, needling, and outraging novel, one to revel in and argue with ... 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.
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.