Gary Steyngart on His Latest Novel, <i>Lake Success</i>

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On the Bus: Gary Steyngart on His Latest Novel, Lake Success

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BKM: On the bus trip in the book, Barry witnesses and experiences drug use, sexual experimentation, and food insecurity, as well as meeting all kinds of people. You say your trip was journalistic, so I imagine you saw a lot of behavior like this on the bus.

GS: Yeah. We all know this stuff is out there. It's not a surprise exactly, but it's still interesting to see it up close, and sometimes shocking to see it up front. America's a strange country. America's a rich country, but there's two kinds of rich. There's rich where you average it out, so many markers of convergence running around that it becomes true per capita. The mean seems like it's up there, but we also have a lot of very poor people. I mean poor by almost any standard imaginable. We not only are not addressing the issue, it's getting worse and worse.

In a way, the existence of people like Barry Cohen is what leads us to the kind of inequality that then leads us down the path to all kinds of horrible other things as well. The precariousness of people's lives allows them to stand up and voice the horrible things that they never voiced before. There's a feeling I think among people that the whole country is going off the rails in some ways. Many people think that their children aren't going to do any better than they are, but there's a feeling I think that we live in a kind of plutocracy or kleptocracy where people like Barry Cohen, who was on the run from the SEC, are the ones that hold the cards. Not to give away to the reader what happens at the end, but in the end, he gets a slap on the wrist. I think that's what does happen, and that's almost what people expect. They live in a country where all the rules are different for wealthier people than they are for people on the Greyhounds.

BKM: You fled the Soviet Union with your parents when you were a kid. What's it like watching your adopted country possibly falling under the sphere of Russian influence?

GS: It's insane. It's insane. I always thought after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that things would go quite in the opposite direction, that Russia would try to adapt some of America's civil society, democracy, free market, etc., but what happened was that America adapted to Russia, the kleptocracy, authoritarianism, hatred of the media, independent media.

Now, with Fox News, we have essentially a state channel, a channel that defends the state, produces lies on behalf of the state, or the one person who's in charge of the state, Trump. It's truly remarkable that it's been a complete turnaround from what I expected. As a Russian American, how do I not address that in future novels? I think in future books that's obviously a thing that's going to come up.

Buy Lake Success at Oblong Books »

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