This novel was named one of the Best Books of 2018 by NPR. I had heard of one of the author’s earlier works, Absurdistan, but had not read it. Having spent a large chunk of my working life in law firms doing finance, securities, and banking law, I liked the SEC story from the start.
Hedge-hogger Barry Cohen has over $2 billion in assets under management in his hedge fund, This Side of Capital. His much younger, but only, wife, Seema (a name, I imagine chosen to evoke the fluid a male dispenses in the procreative act as that substance carried the defective gene related to Barry’s age) now have a little son just-diagnosed as “On The Spectrum.” Meanwhile, the SEC is hot on Barry’s heels over some questionable decisions he has made in running his fund. So, Barry takes off on a Greyhound, throwing away his phone and credit cards by schlepping along a wheelie-case of exotic high-end watches–his passion. His road trip, seemingly modeled on something by Hemmingway that I haven’t yet read, becomes cathartic and helps him to work out who he is and what his purpose is. Predictably, along the way, he meets many “colorful” “real people” who live “authentic” lives. I.e. the poor.
Running behind all of this is Seema’s own disillusionment, her overwhelming anxiety about their son and the necessity of getting him every possible therapeutic assistance available. And, of course, the election. You remember the election, I’m sure? The one with that man and that woman–neither of whom gave me all those feels? Yeah. That one.
Road trip novels are always great fun, especially in the summer. Overall I enjoyed the book. I am well-versed in the smaller city versions of Barry. I was pleased to find him asking why people who weren’t uber-rich staying in Manhattan when they could “live like minor dictators in the rest of the country”–something I’ve long wondered about. It was refreshing, too, to see Barry connect with his friend’s son, to share his own childhood obsessions (a nice coincidence, admittedly) with the awkward boy.
I always like finding genuine cross-generational couples and Seema and Barry, in spite of their age difference, had, well had had, a real marriage–a first marriage for both. Finally, I was pleasantly surprised by the non-cliche ending (to be honest, I knew this author would not and could not produce a cliched rom-com type ending.) That was a nice, unexpected, moment.
What I couldn’t stand was the author’s obsession with men giving women oral sex. A slurp-by-gulp description of each act was about the grossest thing I’ve read since Outlander. Nor did I need to know that she bent over so they could have sex. Really?? These ADD to the story?? How? Of course, Barry is shallow, but we don’t really need to know his oral fixation to understand him–especially not in such a graphic way.
One silly thing: Who the heck makes cucumber sandwiches for kids in El Paso?? That was just “off.” Funny, but off.
A Note on the Audio Version
Probably due to the election story, my mind kept hearing President Josiah Bartlet of The West Wing for the reader sounded so much like Martin Sheen!
Lake Success by Gary Shteyngart
For Another Greyhound Road Trip Novel see: