A New York Times Notable Book
Winner of the Great Lakes Book Award and the 21st Century Award from the Chicago Public Library
Raised in an affluent suburb on the North Shore of Chicago, Rich Cohen had a cluster of interesting friends, but none more interesting than Jamie Drew. Fatherless, reckless, and lower middle class in a place that wasn’t, Jamie possessed such an irresistible insouciance and charm that even the teachers called him Drew-licious. Through the high school years of parties and Cub games and girls, of summer nights on the beach and forbidden forays into the blues bars of Chicago’s notorious South Side, the two formed an inseparable bond. Even after Cohen went to college in New Orleans (Jamie went to Kansas) and then moved to New York, where he had a memorable interlude with the legendary New Yorker writer Joseph Mitchell, Jamie remained oddly crucial to his life. Exquisite and taut, Lake Effect is a bittersweet coming-of-age story that quietly bores to the essence of friendship and how it survives even as it is destined to change.
When Cohen's family lived in Libertyville, Ill., they were the only Jews in the town, but that was fine with their neighbors, who said, "Thank God, we were afraid they would sell to Catholics." This anecdote illuminates the ever-shifting status of outsiderness that Cohen portrayed with such precision in Tough Jews. It's also emblematic of this memoir of his youth. Cohen is less interested in cultural identity than in pinpointing the elliptical influences of the mid-1980s ("that decade, as odorless and colorless as noxious gas, came to inhabit every part of our lives") on him and his friends. Much of the memoir is a platonic love letter to his best friend, Jamie Drew, "the true hero of my youth, the most vivid presence." Cohen's prose is elegiac, nostalgic and Gatsby-esque double dates are remembered by "cheeseburgers and apple-pie... a root-beer float, a scoop of vanilla ice cream melting into its own foam... and in the rearview, Jamie whispered to his girl as the split-levels and convenience stores tumbled by" and conveys not only the fleetingness of teen years but a vivid portrait of Midwestern life. Cohen's memoir is filled with tender moments (e.g., Jamie telling him "he had a wet dream, which he called a rain dance... is brought by the rain god, the sweetest and most charitable god of all"), but never loses its realistic, hard edge, such as when Jamie decides to drive while drunk and high, crying because his own father died in a drunk driving accident. Poignant and lyrical, this will please Cohen's fans and find new readers for him. , there's a good chance it will indeed live up to the publisher's expectations.