From the author of the memoir Do Travel Writers Go to Hell?, this debut novel follows 27-year-old Lane after his marriage to a rich Manhattanite goes bust and he moves back to his parents' depressed neighborhood on the outskirts of Seattle, where he participates in a depraved scheme to make enough money to return to New York.
It’s not often that you encounter a fictional character who could have served you cold cuts at your neighborhood Fred Meyer. But if you live near Lake City, as I do, Thomas Kohnstamm’s debut novel tells a tale so local...that you may want to look over your shoulder the next time you go grocery shopping to see if the book’s ne’er-do-well narrator is lurking there ... It’s easy to see that Lane’s attempts to redeem himself will not go as planned. Less predictable are the complications Kohnstamm throws his way, which turn Lake City into a caustic satire on class privilege and deprivation ... The novel loses a little of its edge in its later stretches ... But the portrait Kohnstamm offers of a Seattle backwater trailing in the wake of the Emerald City’s rising glamour is indelible.
Kohnstamm attempts to use his gifts of description and characterization—which are considerable—to render the break rooms, beer fridges, trailer parks, and working-class people of his hometown. The idea is to find the soul of Lake City, the thing that makes it particular, unique, worthy. This effort is moderately successful ... Kohnstamm is at his best when he's sending up a special kind of virtue-signaling liberal who claims to live their life in constant service to the oppressed, but who doesn't actually do anything for them. The relationships between the characters bring out this underlying critique, but the narrator, weirdly, gets in the way ... The author's desire to highlight Lake City's uniqueness also leads him to manufacture regionalisms ... Such overblown regionalisms and reaches for 'authenticity' feel desperate, which is maybe the most Seattle thing about the book. But local readers will likely enjoy the familiar locations and scraps of lore.
[Kohnstamm]'s delusional, narcissistic antihero and unsympathetic supporting characters—some dangerously close to offensive stereotypes—don't catch many breaks as they ricochet from one nasty situation to the next, with cheap beer, repellent food (beware a riff on the composition of deli turkey), illegal drugs, and other local specialties never far from hand. Amusing as snarky social commentary on the world of Seattle have-nots.