Remembering the '80s, Chicago-style
Taking its name in part from his friends' answer to surfing swimming off an abandoned dock on the shores of Lake Michigan Rich Cohen's new memoir Lake Effect is a timeless coming-of-age tale set in the 1980s. Raised on Chicago's Great Lakes, he and his friends do the usual: hang out, drink beer, sneak into the city to hear the blues and hold long, intense conversations about their dreams and ambitions. But what makes this story different is Cohen's skill at capturing, as he puts it, the thrill of a certain kind of friendship and what happens to such friendships when the afternoon runs into the evening. Growing up in a decade remembered for New Wave, full-tilt capitalism and Ronald Reagan, Cohen and his high school buddies all bring different elements to their circle, but it's the mercurial Jamie Drew, known as Drew-licious, who is the catalyst behind many activities. Jamie is a leader who maintains an aloofness, the detachment of a point man scouting enemy territory, and despite their evident closeness, his inner life seems to remain a tantalizing mystery to the author. Yet Cohen is unabashed in his admiration for Jamie, who often walked paths he never tread himself.
There is a melancholy to their friendship, as time passes and their lives diverge. Cohen heads for Tulane University in New Orleans and a career as a successful writer. From the French Quarter to the Big Apple, where he writes for the esteemed New Yorker, Cohen realizes his dream of working as a journalist, while some of his friends seem to drop out of life. His eventual alienation from Jamie, which parallels the decisions all adults make as they leave childhood behind, will resonate with readers. Jobs, school, relationships and responsibilities inevitably come between Cohen and Jamie. Occasional reunions, while joyful, also carry a reminder of how much time has passed. A universal story of youth, maturity and love, Lake Effect is a probing meditation on the passage of time, an accomplished book filled with the humorous antics of teenagers in suburbia.
Gregory Harris is a writer, editor and IT consultant in Indianapolis.