Off the Bucket List: Lake Success

Originally published March 2019

Thank you, Gary Shteyngart.

I have been released from any fantastical musings I may have ever had about just hopping a bus or train and walking away from it all. Barry Cohen took one for the team, and I am grateful.

Shteyngart’s latest, “Lake Success” is a great piece of escapist literature for anyone collapsing under the weight of stress that comes with adulting. You know — work, marriage, kids, house, taxes, politics. That stuff. Only in Barry Cohen’s world, the stress is multiplied by a factor of autism, the Feds and a nagging sense of self-inflicted injustice.

As the primary progatonist, Barry takes readers on a Greyhound bus adventure that begins in New York City, where he is so desperate to separate himself from his identity that he trashes his wallet and his phone, yet at the same time, clings to a singular passion for high-end watches. We tag along as Barry travels back into his past, tracking down his college girlfriend, hoping to reconcile and take a chance on the road he didn’t take before — the road toward being a better person, less self-involved, and ridiculously woke.

Left in Barry’s self-destructive wake are the FBI agents trying to “ask a few questions” and his wife Seema, left to navigate their three-year-old son’s nonverbal autism on her own. Or, maybe with a little help from a neighbor and a lover. It’s less confusing than it sounds. Trust me.

So who among us hasn’t at least once had that feeling of, “What’s the Metra schedule today? How far can I get with the change in my pocket? What would happen if I just bought a plane ticket?” Crazy, I know. Which is why that notion doesn’t morph into reality. Romantic thoughts of a beach and a drink with an umbrella in it are quickly replaced by “But who will feed the dog?” and “Oh yeah. I’m married.” and “No one understands my kids better than me. If I leave, well … game over.” But thanks to Barry’s next-level angst, we get a sneak peek on exactly what it could look like chasing that dream. And it’s ugly.

In the end, Barry discovers that there isn’t much you can do to change human nature. That we all sit within our own rigid personalities. That change may be less about change than it is about acceptance. And that in embracing that, well, then you really are free.

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