Lake Success

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Thank you to Random House Publishing Group for providing me with a copy of Gary Shteyngart’s novel, Lake Success, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT – Barry Cohen is a wealthy, NYC hedge-fund manger who is having a super-sized mid-life crisis. His career is about to implode and he is likely facing jail time due to an SEC investigation. He hides his troubles from his younger, beautiful wife, Seema. Seema hides an affair that she is having with a married writer who lives in their building, a man whom her husband despises. They both battle with their emotions over their severely autistic son. Barry’s crisis makes him flee the city, catching a Greyhound bus and traveling cross-country to reconnect with his first love, who has no idea that he is coming. The adventures on his trip will take him as far away from his luxury lifestyle as he could have ever imagined.

LIKELake Success is completely unpredictable, hilarious, and quirky. Barry and Seema are both unlikeable, narcissistic characters, that Shteyngart manages to humanize and make relatable. I started out disgusted with them and slowly began to care for both of them.

Barry’s misadventures on the road are a great blend of being outrageous and uproariously funny, with affecting. As Barry comes out of his shell, meeting people that he would have never interacted with in his NYC life, he begins to change.

In one scene, he wanders into a rough neighborhood and has a conversation with a crack dealer. The wacky part of this scene is Barry is asked to leave, so the dealer can ramp up his act for a tour group of “Urban Tourists” who are interested in seeing a poor, ethnic neighborhood. The drug dealer puts on an act for the tourists, becoming the character that they imagine him to be based on their stereotypes. Barry is like the dealer, in his NYC life he plays the part of an upperclass, financial guy with the perfect wife. His son is hidden most of the time, as is anything that breaks the facade of perfection. A huge part of Barry’s crisis is the burden of trying to maintain this facade.

Seema is also dealing with a similar issue and through her affair she begins to shed her facade of perfection. Trying to maintain this facade has actually destroyed their marriage. They cannot communicate and see it as a failing to not only their son, but to their life in general, if they admit that anything is less than perfect. But the problem actually seems to have existed before their marriage, when they first began to date. Seema had a focus on a type of guy that she wanted to marry and Barry fit the profile. Barry was attracted to Seema’s youth and beauty. They seem to be attracted to the idea of each other, rather than actually to each other. Although Seema’s crisis didn’t take her on a road trip, she experiences a dramatic change in perspective. Her character growth is equal to Barry’s change.

DISLIKE– This is minor, but it did take me about 3-4 chapters to really be gripped by the story. After the slow start, I was hooked. Lake Success has both strong story and character arcs, with a very satisfying pay-off at the end.

RECOMMEND– YES!!! I finished Lake Success in late 2018, but life got in the way, so I am writing this review very late. That said, I cannot stop thinking about Lake Success. It made a huge impression on me. Shteyngart is a fabulous writer who has created a multi-layered story with heart and a lot of wicked humor. I look forward to reading his other works. He’s brilliant!

Sociable

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Thank you to Doubleday Booksfor providing me with a copy of Rebecca Harrington’s novel, Sociable, in exchange for an honest review.

PLOT– Journalist Elinor Tomlinson is devastated when her boyfriend and fellow journalist, Mike, breaks up with her. They had been dating for four years and the break-up seems to have come from out of the blue. Elinor suspects that Mike was cheating on her with his colleague, Andrea, but no matter how much she dives into Mike’s social media, she cannot get concrete proof. In the months after the break-up, Elinor starts working at a company called Journalism.ly, where she has a knack for writing articles that go viral on social media. She starts figuring out life on her own with a new apartment and jumping back into the dating scene, but Mike is never far from her mind. Will Elinor ever understand her breakup or will she just drive herself crazy by using social media to relay to Mike that her life is fine without him?

LIKE– One of the best part of Sociableis the commentary on how men treat women in the workplace. Elinor is a talented journalist, yet the men in her life use subtle tactics to undermine her efforts. When she is dating Mike, his career and talents always shine above hers. The ending of the story has a nice nod to Elinor realizing that she is just as talented and worthy. Her superiors at Journalism.ly, are male and they constantly belittle her. One guy, who is her age and whom she went to college with, feels that he can serve as her mentor, because he has been at the company a few months longer. It’s insidious and the worst part is the men clearly don’t even realize what they are doing. It’s simply the way things between men and women have always been. I certainly recognized the behavior from my own experiences in the work place. Men can be very patronizing, even when they are the “good guys.”

Speaking of the men in Sociable; they come across as very flat characters, especially Elinor’s co-workers. When I finished the novel, I felt disappointed, especially with Peter, a coworker whom it seems might have a crush on Elinor, but where the storyline never develops. However, after giving it some thought, I’ve concluded that the point of Sociableis that Elinor allows her fixation on Mike to get in the way of her goals. The point is for Elinor to come into her own and realize that she is worthy outside of having a relationship or validation from social media. It was a little odd that so much of the Peter situation was developed without a pay-off, but the ultimate pay-off was Elinor’s self-realization.

And Elinor, oh Elinor…she’s a mess. It’s not a requirement to have a likable protagonist, but I have to confess that I wish that I had been able to like Elinor a bit more. She reminded me of a character from Lena Dunham’s series, Girls. Elinor is self-involved, not particularly nice to her friends, and neurotic. She is full of contradictions and is rather unpleasant. I felt that her situation was highly relatable, but I found myself rooting for her to succeed in her situation, not her as a person. That said, I found Sociableto be a compulsive read that I didn’t want to put down. I was locked-in and finished it in one afternoon.

I also want to mention that the same day that I sat down to read Sociable, my husband and I had a discussion about Facebook and the fake realities that people create for themselves or how they post things on social media just for attention. I found this to be very timely with regard to my reading of Sociable, especially how Elinor works hard to cultivate a perfect social media presence. In several scenes, Elinor is at party or a mixer, and she is on her phone (as are others) ignoring real social interactions, while favoring documenting a false version of the situation on their social media accounts. It’s stomach turning, because it’s what’s happening in real life all of the time. Reading Sociablehas made me step back from my own social media usage.

DISLIKE– Besides wishing that I had liked Elinor, I found it odd that the story occasionally broke the fourth wall, addressing the reader directly. It was infrequent enough to be a quirk that I found unnecessary and distracting. It always pulled me out of the story.

RECOMMEND– Yes. Sociableis a quick read that stuck in my mind for several days after I finished reading it. It reminded me so much of Girls, that I recommend it to fans of the show. Harrington is a solid writer and this is a on-point topic.