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Comic novel about hedge fund magnate uses Lake Success as a 'state of mind'

Actor Ben Stiller, a friend of author Gary

Actor Ben Stiller, a friend of author Gary Shteyngart, made a YouTube video promoting his new novel "Lake Success." Credit: Random House/Trotman-Wilkins, David

"Lake Success" is a state of mind for the protagonist of his new comic novel, author Gary Shteyngart said.

Shteyngart, born in Leningrad, was reared in Little Neck, Queens, within sight of Nassau County.

"Our backyard was the last backyard in New York City," he said in an interview. "We all looked across the border to Great Neck. It's the first suburb east of New York City."

Little Neck also is where Shteyngart placed the boyhood home of the book's protagonist, Barry Cohen.

Cohen, Shteyngart said, is seeking a way to break out of his Queens neighborhood.

"He looks to Great Neck and . . . Lake Success, which has the word 'success' in it."

Cohen becomes a hedge fund magnate but, in the process, loses his soul.

"It's a man who sets out for perfection and ends up with his life in shambles."

Shteyngart set the book in the election year of 2016.

"He never understands what he and his kind have done to the real America," Shteyngart said of his protagonist. "What he has done is a form of insider trading. There's a mystery about who's going to give him away."

Ultimately the story turns on whether Cohen can find redemption.

Shteyngart said his story was in no way inspired by Long Island's most prominent hedge fund, Renaissance Technologies, based in East Setauket.

He also said that he did not use the Lake Success setting because the village was the headquarters of Stratton Oakmont Inc., the notorious real-life boiler room brokerage operation depicted in "The Wolf of Wall Street."

"I knew that subconsciously," he said.

Shteyngart recruited his friend, actor Ben Stiller, to make a video trailer promoting the book.

"He was sweet enough to help," he said of Stiller. "It was like a master class in comedic acting."

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