Swamp Rabbit told me he was going home, he was tired of my grumbling about Donald Trump, I should finish writing my new “fiction book” instead of following politics.
“Or read books by other peeps,” he said.
I told him there’s no avoiding Trump, he’s even crept into contemporary fiction. I’d read Gary Shteyngart’s Lake Success a few months ago and encountered about a dozen mentions of the grabber-in-chief. Trump is like an expanding cloud of smog, polluting the whole culture.
The rabbit asked, so I explained that Shteyngart is an A-list novelist and that Lake Success is about a guy named Barry whose life is falling apart even though he’s an enormously wealthy hedge fund manager with a beautiful wife named Seema and a zillion-dollar condo in Manhattan.
Self-absorbed Barry feels unloved by Seema and their autistic son, and is in trouble for insider trading. He leaves town to search for an old girlfriend, and he ends up searching for the real America or the meaning of life or something. He’s like Sal Paradise in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road crossed with Sherman McCoy in Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities, except that Barry is a bit older than Sal and a thousand times more prosperous and jaded.
“Wait a minute, who’s this Sal guy?” Swamp Rabbit said. “And where’s this bonfire you’re talking about?”
I told him never mind, I should know better than to make literary allusions to someone who gets his information from talking heads on TV and gossipy Internet news sites.
“That ain’t fair,” Swamp Rabbit said. “You get your news from the same crappy sources as me.”
He was right. I spend more spare time scrolling Internet news sites than reading books, fiction or nonfiction. I realize that news venues impart only superficial knowledge of what’s happening in the world, but I excuse myself by saying “Who has time to read books these days?”
“And who has the energy?” I added, challenging the rabbit. “I’m worn out from working my traveling salesman job. It’s easier to watch cable news or Game of Thrones.”
“Quit whining,” he said. “Tell me about Lake Success.”
So I told him Barry’s reunion with the girlfriend doesn’t work out (of course not) as he travels west by bus and meets minorities and suffers through a bunch of indignities and wises up to the obvious fact that daily life in America is much worse for the poor than it is for the rich.
And there’s a counter-narrative from the POV of Seema who, after their first meeting, had
…Googled Barry’s net worth and found it comforting. A man that rich couldn’t be stupid. Or, Seema thought now, was that the grand fallacy of twenty-first-century America?
Trump is in the story even when he isn’t directly mentioned. He’s the grotesque symbol of the emptiness at the heart of the American Dream — the emptiness that helps explain Barry and Seema’s inability to feel any contentment despite their opulent lifestyles. But Shteyngart is a naturally funny writer, so you don’t get hit over the head with that message.
“Blah blah, ” Swamp Rabbit said. “Cut to the chase, what happens in the end?”
I told him to read the book if he wants to know. He looked at me like I was loony and said, “Who has time to read books these days?”