Gary Shteyngart: reality catches up to dystopian fiction
- riding the Greyhounds of hell, from New York to El Paso
- the alternate reality of hedge fund traders
Gary Shteyngart‘s new novel Lake Success is the evil doppelgänger of the Simon and Garfunkel song ‘America‘. In what is surely destined to become one of those legendary novel openings, right up there with “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” we meet Barry Cohen, “a man with 2.4 billion dollars of assets under management . . .” in a Greyhound Bus Terminal at 3:20 am, bleeding from his face and drunk on $20,000 of Japanese whiskey.
Shteyngart is one of my favorite writers ever. In the three books I’ve read—a memoir and two novels—we are sad, basically good-hearted schmos twisted into balloon animals by an uncaring world. Or . . . wait . . . the world is made of us…so…how good hearted are we, really?
Born in the USSR, Shteyngart emigrated to Queens as a kid. In his memoir Little Failure he describes his first experience of American cereal: “It tastes grainy easy and light, with a hint of false fruitiness. It tastes the way America feels.”
It tastes the way America feels.
Like Paul Simon in the song, Barry Cohen has walked…or stumbled drunkenly…off to look for America. By almost any measure he is a horrible person. He’s also a sad, basically good-hearted schmo twisted in into a balloon animal by the world. And maybe America is a false, fruity mirror in which, the harder you look, the more you end up seeing yourself.
Surprise conversation starter clips in this episode:
Anand Giridharadas on the sham of corporate social responsibility