In All The Sad Young Literary Men Gessen charts the lives of Mark, Keith, and Sam as they over-process their college days, under-process relationships past and present, and pathetically as well as triumphantly struggle their way through a web of women who love them and loathe them, in search for a sense of maturity, responsibility and literary (or other) fame.
Newly divorced and heartbroken in his university town of Syracuse, Mark attempts to center his life around his graduate work on the Russian Revolution and ends up being seduced by internet dating and online porn. Sam's on a mission to write "the first great Zionist epic" even though he couldn't say a Hebrew word if you paid him, hasn't yet made it to Israel, and is not a practicing Jew. Obsessive self-Googler and avid dater after a string of failed relationships, Sam learns what it feels like to be just another name on a list of sexual encounters. And then there's more serious and sensitive Keith who is thwarted by inherited notions of resilience and greatness, by memories of his broken family, and muddles his way into the arms of the selfless woman he meets in Brooklyn.
All The Sad Young Literary Men radiates with comedic warmth and biting honesty.
In n+1 founding editor Gessen's first novel, three college graduates grapple with 20th-century history at the dawn of the 21st century while trying--with little success--to forge literary careers and satisfying relationships. Mark is working on his doctoral dissertation on Roman Sidorovich, the funny Menshevik, but after the failure of his marriage, he's distracted by online dating and Internet porn. Sam tries to write the Great Zionist Novel, but his visits to Israel and the occupied territories are mostly to escape a one-sided romance back in Cambridge. And Keith is a liberal writer who has a difficult time separating the personal from the political. Less a novel than a series of loosely connected vignettes, the humor supposedly derives from the arch disconnect between the great historic events these three characters contemplate and the petty failures of their literary and romantic strivings. But it is difficult to differentiate--and thus to care about--the three developmentally arrested protagonists who, very late in the novel, take baby steps toward manhood. There's plenty of irony on tap and more than a few cutting lines, but the callow cast and listless narrative limit the book's potential. (Apr.)
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April 09, 2008
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