Lake Effect

Lake Effect

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by Rich Cohen
     
 

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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,

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Lake Effect draws its characters with a sure hand. . . . Cohen's connection to his past seems to remain strong.” –The New York Times

“So outrageous and so true. . . . the book rockets along, powered by the high octane of Cohen’s candor [and] off-beat observations.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Contains lines so heartbreakingly apt and funny I stopped to reread constantly. Cohen is a natural.” –Jonathan Lethem

“Cohen writes with confidence and humor, and he deftly evokes the aimlessness of adolescence.” –Chicago Sun-Times

“Cohen . . . has taken the everyday stuff of life and made it joyously readable. The mundane becomes richly evocative in his hands. The usual becomes unusual, the boring becomes interesting, the sweet becomes bittersweet, and Lake Effect becomes the proverbial book you can't put down.” –Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“Arresting and thoughtful. . . . Cohen brings back the flavor of the '80s culture with insight and humor." –The Washington Post

“Cohen has written a fine book.” –Chicago Tribune

“A universal story of youth, maturity and love, Lake Effect is a probing meditation on the passage of time, an accomplished book.” –Bookpage

Publishers Weekly
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... [which] 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. Agent, Andrew Wylie. (Apr. 29) Forecast: Knopf plans a 50,000 first printing, and given this book's wide appeal (20- and 30-somethings who grew up in the '80s, Jewish readers, Midwestern transplants, New Yorker fans), there's a good chance it will indeed live up to the publisher's expectations. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
The decade of the '80s is still so recent that there are not many memoirs yet written about it. For Rich Cohen, the '80s was his coming-of-age decade and Glencoe on the North Shore of Chicago his fledging perch. In this story of his high school and college years, Cohen populates his world with his friends, parents and teachers and, especially, his best friend, Jamie Drew, known by all as Drew-licious. Drew was the boy with the most charm and promise and whose family (minus his father) had the least money in the affluent world of Glencoe. As the friends disperse to colleges around the country, Jamie becomes sidetracked and some of his carefully hidden secrets are revealed. The author's bittersweet recounting of his youth and his friendships is more than a personal story, although the rites of passage of his high school years and graduation are told with affection for the participants. Cohen, an author, writer for the New Yorker, and a contributing editor of Rolling Stone, captures the spirit of a specific time and place, but he also conveys the tenderness of youth on the brink of promise fulfilled and dissipated. KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2002, Random House, Vintage, 208p.,
— Nola Theiss
Kirkus Reviews
Journalist and nonfiction author Cohen (The Avengers, 2000, etc.) tells the memorable story of his boyhood friendship with a kid haunted and cool beyond his years whose presence made everyone's life that much more lustrous. The place is Glencoe, Illinois, on the lake north of Chicago, during the 1980s, a decade Cohen remembers as "colorless and odorless as a noxious gas." Into the void walks Jamie Drew, soon to be tagged Drew-licious: dashing, smart, and imbued with the kind of unruffled awareness possessed by Mark Twain's Tom Sawyer and Richard Fariña's Gnossos Pappadopolous. Life was just that much more colorful; you felt more observant and more critical when you were in Drew's sphere of influence, even when it meant being in his shadow. (As Cohen remembers it, "my own existence, compared to his, seemed half lived.") The author recounts their experiences in an unembellished but smack-dab style that will transport readers, for better or worse, back to their teenage years. He captures the camaraderie of simply hanging out, swimming in the lake, buying records; that everyday life underlies and sustains more incandescent moments. Adventures run the gamut from merry pranks to questing after the authentic (hitting Chicago's gritty South Side to hear some blues) to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, with Drew "moving through the city like a dervish, a step ahead of the crowd, of the cops." Cohen, for all his suggestibility, finds Drew's evident mastery of all things a challenge and occasionally an indictment. By now the boys are in college, though at different schools, and as they move in and out of orbit, there is the sense that someone is destined for a fall. Doesn't happen, thus lifting this memoirfrom the predictable—but then the boys' unique niche in the continuum of youth had already done that. A fine summoning of time and place, true to the voice of adolescence. First printing of 50,000

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375725333
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/08/2003
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
224
Sales rank:
903,291
Product dimensions:
5.13(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.54(d)

Read an Excerpt

Part One

In summer we slept on the beach. We would park our cars on a side street and hike through the trees to the ravine and then down to a secret little shore that only we knew about. We would get a fire going and drink red wine and look at the lights winding along the north coast and, to the south, at the haze above Chicago. Out on the lake, we could see the red hazards of ships, and sometimes a speedboat splashed its tiny wake onto the rocky sand. Jamie told stories about the lake, which he said was over a thousand feet deep, and about the ships that had gone down beyond the horizon, voices vanishing in the cold water. When the wine was gone, we sat talking about girls and fights, or what we would do next week or next month. Who could see beyond next month?

There were a lot of us on the beach, the usual crew. Tom Pistone, who wished he had been a teenager in the fifties, drove a '61 Pontiac GTO, walked with a swagger, and dated girls in polka dots. Ronnie Flowers, who tagged after us like a mascot, was simpleminded and easy to fool and knew just one way to deal with people–as the butt of a joke. Tyler White, a genius or a fool, spent hours watching construction sites.

Of all those friends, the one I remember best is Jamie Drew. Looking back, I see that Jamie was the true hero of my youth, the most vivid presence, not only of my childhood but also for kids up and down the North Shore. Words he said, gestures he crafted, swept our school like a craze, imitated, in the end, even by the teachers. He was quick and dashing and honestly the smartest person I have ever known, and yet he seemed to hold his own talents in mean regard. My mother called him a lost soul. For a long time, I saw him as a tricked-out racer rusting in the garage–that part of each of us that did not survive the rough transition into adulthood.

When the fire burned down, we buried the embers and settled on the sand, which stayed warm for hours. In the morning, the sun appeared across the lake and, one by one, we climbed the hill to our cars and drove home to top off our sleep in our warm beds. Jamie and I often dozed late on the sand and then swam up the shore to the public beach, where our friends, showered and shaved, were waiting.

This was in the middle of the 1980s. It did not seem like it at the time, but that decade, as odorless and colorless as a noxious gas, came to inhabit every part of our lives. On the radio, we listened to "Scarecrow" by John Cougar Mellencamp, each of us worrying, in his own way, about the plight of the American farmer. In the fall, we wore jean jackets and chewed tobacco–Skoal long cut. On the weekends, we disappeared on end runs to Wisconsin, where the drinking age was eighteen, returning with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon or Point beer. Jamie's favorite beer was Mickey's Big Mouth, which he drank in noisy, head-clearing slugs. We would hide the beer in my backyard, bringing it inside only when my parents left town. A six pack might make a half dozen trips from the yard to the fridge. When a can was finally opened, it fizzled and foamed with the sweet skunk taste of summer. On television, we watched David Letterman, who was then still funny, and Ronald Reagan, whose smiling face beamed down on us. We knew that Reagan also was from Illinois, but his state and our state seemed far apart in time and place. My father called him the man with the very old face and the very young miracle hair. In school, Jamie and I studied all this in Popular Culture, a class where we also learned stereotypes from entertainment history. Our favorites were the Old Nat stereotype, which resulted in courtly black gentlemen dancing on white movie screens, and the Fu Manchu stereotype, featuring Oriental tyrants hellbent on world domination. Sometimes, as we sat on the beach, a Japanese kid would walk by and Jamie would say, "Think he suffers from the Fu Manchu stereotype?"

Most days ended with a dozen friends back at my house, sitting around the kitchen. I was at first flattered by the appeal I had for my friends, until I realized it had nothing to do with me; my friends were coming to see my father. My father was different from the other fathers in town: men in gray suits, newspaper under an arm, waiting for the train to the city. My father wore dirty brown pants and T-shirts crossed by lines and a watch on each wrist. "A man with one watch thinks he knows the time, "he would say. "A man with two watches can never be sure. "He had a job that kept him on the road. If not working, he was at home weeks at a stretch, wandering the house in reading glasses and boxer shorts. He often wore a suede cowboy hat, which, he said, identified him as a High Plains drifter. When a friend of mine, accustomed to the routines of his own father, crinkled his nose and asked, "Mr. Cohen, what is it you do?" my father wiped a plate and said, "Son, I am what you call a house husband."

A few years before I met Jamie, his father had been killed in one of those pointless high-speed tragedies that stain our national highways. Now and then, when Jamie mentioned the accident, he would curse under his breath. For this reason, he developed a special attachment to my father, who, rather than advise or instruct, simply treated him like a man. More than anything, Jamie was a boy raised by women, by his sister and his mother and his grandmother. I once warned him that a boy raised by girls had a greater chance of going fag. It was a stupid thing to say and a joke, but it turned into a big fight. I guess I was oblivious to the great fearful need in Jamie, the need for authority, someone to guide him. It was a need I would come to recognize in so many of my friends, kids who came of age during the divorce boom, in a nation seemingly without adults, a nation dedicated to the proposition that nothing counts except celebrity; it was this need that would later send us flitting from mentor to mentor, party to party, scene to scene, never resting, never settling, never satisfied with ourselves. For a time, it was a need Jamie and I filled in each other. One night, when he was lying in the twin bed across from mine, after we had each gone through the list of the girls in school we wanted to sleep with, Jamie said, "I wish I could be more like your father: you know, a High Plains drifter."

I laughed. "Jamie, it's just a fucking hat. He's from Brooklyn."

Jamie said, "Yeah, but still, I wish I could be that way."

In the autumn of 1972, my family moved to Glencoe from Libertyville, a farming town in northern Illinois. We were the only Jewish family in Libertyville. When I asked my father if he had met with much anti-Semitism, he smiled and said, "Are you kidding? When we moved in, the neighbors shook my hand and said, 'Thank God, we were afraid they would sell to Catholics.' They hadn't even worked their way down to us yet. "Before Libertyville, my parents, newlyweds out of Brooklyn, had lived in New Jersey and Long Island, moving as my father was transferred. As a result, we came to have that special closeness of families on the go. I was four when we left Libertyville. My only memories of that town are of a sunny main drag of car dealerships and Dairy Queens and of the Des Plaines River, which wound by our house. Once, to convince my brother it was safe to walk on the frozen river (in school, my brother had been warned of black ice), my father jumped up and down, breaking through the ice into the swift current. The other things I remember are from stories later told to me: myself, in a red snowsuit, floating face down in a sewer of runoff, where my sister had dropped me; being crammed up the shirt of Tracy Hawkins, a neighborhood girl who wanted to pretend she was birthing me; driving with my mother to see a house she liked in Glencoe, which, in my mind, plays like a fancy movie dissolve into the next scene.

Glencoe is thirty miles up the lake from Chicago. It is a perfect town for a certain kind of dreamy kid, with just enough history to get your arms around. It was founded in the early 1800s by a blacksmith named Taylor, who walked out of the city, dark buildings and foundry flames at his back, into the great silence of the north, forests of oak and elm, Lake Michigan appearing and disappearing beyond the trees. He waded streams and passed through Indian settlements teeming in the open fields–settlements remembered today only in the names of country clubs that, until recently, did not allow blacks or Jews. In a flat place between the lake and the swamps to the west, he cleared trees and built a house and a dock and invited his friends and family to join him. He called the town Taylorsport, a name later changed to Glencoe. For a time, it was an industrial center, where lumber and coal were stacked on barges and towed down the lake. By the 1880s, it was a bustling country hamlet of unlit dirt roads. At night, the sky above the lake was a canvas of stars. In 1892, the town was destroyed in a cattle stampede, a thousand head of raging beef bound for the slaughter yards of Chicago. Ten years later Glencoe had reemerged as a prosperous village of feed stores, blacksmiths, and schoolhouses. When the railroad was built, with a station in Glencoe, the town was yoked to the city. The president of the railroad built a mansion in town.

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