All the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen, Paperback | Barnes & Noble
All the Sad Young Literary Men

All the Sad Young Literary Men

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by Keith Gessen
     
 

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A novel of love, sadness, wasted youth, and literary and intellectual ambition-"a wincingly funny debut" (Vogue)

Keith Gessen is a Brave and trenchant new literary voice. Known as an award-winning translator of Russian and a book reviewer for publications including The New Yorker and The New York Times, Gessen makes his debut with this

Overview

A novel of love, sadness, wasted youth, and literary and intellectual ambition-"a wincingly funny debut" (Vogue)

Keith Gessen is a Brave and trenchant new literary voice. Known as an award-winning translator of Russian and a book reviewer for publications including The New Yorker and The New York Times, Gessen makes his debut with this critically acclaimed novel, a charming yet scathing portrait of young adulthood at the opening of the twenty-first century. The novel charts the lives of Sam, Mark, and Keith as they overthink their college years, underthink their love lives, and struggle to find a semblance of maturity, responsibility, and even literary fame.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Gessen proves himself not only a capable observer but a natural novelist with a warm gun . . . [and] a nice comic sureness. . . . Gessen's style is good-natured and ripe enough to allow a satisfying sweetness to exist in these characters."
-The New York Times Book Review

"Cruelty and affection and erudition and innocence are so perfectly balanced in these stories, they almost make me wish I were young again."
-Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections and The Discomfort Zone

Andrew O'Hagan
Fiction writers emerging from the world of journals often want to write about the hungers of their generation, the wants and hopes, the dreads and fussing, that might characterize a group of brainy young people struggling for success at the prime of their lives. One must assume that Keith Gessen has witnessed these struggles up close—not merely in his own backyard, but in his bathroom mirror—for he writes about them with the kind of knowledge you don't find on Wikipedia. The ambition of young literary Americans is a kind of trench warfare, and Gessen, an editor of the magazine n+1, proves himself not only a capable observer but a natural novelist with a warm gun.
—The New York Times
Jonathan Yardley
Their stories are told separately and connect only in passing ways, yet together they form a convincing portrait of bright young men with vague literary ambitions who can't quite work up the energy to pull the trigger on their futures…[Gessen] has a deft satiric touch and a nice feel for irony. He gets a little soft in the closing chapter, which mixes Keith's evolving personal life with Washington's evolving political life in 2006 and 2007, but ending novels is almost never easy, and it's a perennial problem for first novelists. It will be interesting to see whether, the second time around, Gessen pulls himself out of self and into the larger world, or whether he succumbs to the navel-gazing that too many literary American novelists find so tempting. There can be no doubt, though, that he has plenty of talent to work with.
—The Washington Post
Sam Lipsyte
Here is a funny, felt book by a writer supremely attuned to the vagaries of love and history, or at least to the wounding abstractions that often seem like the vagaries of love and history, especially to overwound young men. The distinction, I think, lies at the heart of this powerful, surprising fiction. Whether we like it or not, Keith Gessen has written an engaged and engaging debut. (Sam Lipsyte, author of Home Land and Venus Drive)
Mary Karr
Before age 30, Gessen made his mark as a public intellectual and literary critic. But his artistic debut may dwarf those other, considerable contributions. Gessen's fiction teases out subtle insights into travails both political and romantic, and with powerful humor. Heaven will take note. (Mary Karr, author of The Liar's Club and Cherry)
Jonathan Franzen
Cruelty and affection and erudition and innocence are so perfectly balanced in these stories, they almost make me wish I were young again. (Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections and The Discomfort Zone)
Publishers Weekly

In n+1founding 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.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

In his first novel, Russian-born Gessen (founder, n+1 ) continues many of the same themes of his excellent short story "Like Vaclav," often with hilarious results. The book focuses on Sam, Mark, and Keith, young "literary men" with ambitious plans to change the world. Unfortunately, these plans are often derailed by their difficulties in dealing with young adulthood. Mark is not so diligently working on a dissertation about the Mensheviks in dreary Syracuse, NY, while reeling from a recent divorce. Sam plans to write a great Zionist novel despite never having been to Israel. And Keith, the son of Russian immigrants and the most thoughtful of the three, struggles with family issues and alienation. Though the three never meet, their lives intertwine as they arrive at their own forms of adulthood. The themes of "Like Vaclav" aren't quite as sustainable in novel form, but Gessen still manages to tackle serious political subjects while poking fun at how seriously his characters take themselves. Strongly recommended for most general fiction collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/07.]-Kevin Greczek, Hamilton, NJ

Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A debut novel from Russian-born translator Gessen that skewers the literary and romantic ambitions of three well-educated, tightly wound young men. This black-comedy-in-stories alternates among three protagonists, Mark, Sam and Keith, who have little contact with one another but who have in common age, bafflement and hunger for literary fame. Mark is a Ph.D. student in Russian history who's dismayed again and again to find that erudition about the Mensheviks and finely honed skills of historical analogy avail him little-fine, avail him nothing-in sussing out his erotic life. They aren't much help, either, in getting his dissertation finished. Meanwhile, Sam gets a contract early in his 20s to produce a "great Zionist epic," but it quickly runs aground, and he has to pay back the advance. Soon he's reduced to temp work doing spreadsheets, and to watching his Internet presence (his identity!) tragically dwindle, an index of squandered promise. In one delightful scene, he calls Google and asks if they might "shift the algorithm a little" until he can get back on his feet. When this draws an uncomfortable laugh, Sam waxes indignant: "You couldn't do anything in this country anymore . . . without someone thinking you were a creep." Finally there is Keith, a subtle, earnest cultural critic and Russian immigrant who seems to have much in common with his author (Keith's sections are presented in the first person). Gessen strikes a marvelous balance between pitilessness and affection toward these young men, and manages the impressive feat of being simultaneously savage and tender. A fiercely intelligent, darkly funny first novel.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780143114772
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/31/2009
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
1,005,098
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Read an Excerpt

His Google was shrinking. It was part of a larger failing, maybe, certainly, but to see it quantified... to see it numerically confirmed... it was cruel. It wasn’t nice. Sam considered the alternatives: he had friends with no Google at all, zero hits, and he even had friends, like Mark Grossman, whose name drew up the hits of other Mark Grossmans, the dentist Grossman and the banker Grossman and Grossmans who had completed 10-kilometer runs. But Sam wondered—the afternoon was young and there was time for it—whether Mark Grossman might not be better off. A man of the future, he would appear on Google yet. There, he would say when that moment came. I, too, am Grossman.

Sam: not Grossman. Sam: not even the size of Sam-of-old, Sam of last year, Sam of two weeks ago. After he’d failed to produce the great Zionist epic he’d been contracted to produce, after he’d stopped writing the occasional freelance article on the second Intifada, after he’d resumed his temp job to begin paying back the advance, there was, in the world, increasingly less Sam. [He backed away from the computer, into the dark, heavy tapestry that split his living room in two and composed of this pathetic little desk and shelf, with its mass of undigested papers, its pile of battered books—a tax-deductible home office. Occasionally he photographed it, this consolation, this small triumph over the masters of his fate. His Google, too, had been a consolation once: if in those heady days, a book deal in his pocket, a girlfriend of complex cosmetic habits in his bedroom, his little AOL mailbox was momentarily silent and unmoving he simply strolled over to Google to confirm that he still existed. Did he ever! Three-hundred-some-odd pages of Samuel Mitnick on the World-Wide-Web, accessible to people everywhere, at any time. Want some Sam? Here you go. Some more? Click, click. Even absolutist states, even China had Google—and there were a lot of people, he’d thought then, in China.

But not enough, apparently, or maybe they just weren’t clicking through... for here he was.] He wasn’t due at Celerity until four, it was barely one, and he needed to get out. Tomorrow night his date with Christine, author of sex advice, he should really stay and clean up, clean himself up, but this apartment was more than he could bear. And, in any case, if Christine hadn’t seen the signs by now, she’d never see them. His unreliable car; his jeans with a hole in them just above the ankle. From what? He had no idea. They would have dinner, dinner at Fae’s, the place where people saw you in the window when they walked by. He looked too shoddy to leave the house but he left the house. Out there: no Google; in here: Google; on Google: no Sam.

Or almost no Sam. Twenty-two. He was at twenty-two and plunging.

He patted his pocket for keys and moved out the door. Sam had other problems, maybe, or anyway the world did. Enter “misery” or “illness” or “plague” and what you saw was pages upon pages. Palestine. Sharon-Arafat. “Occupation.” Put things in quotes and you narrowed the search, and yet, “Instructions for making a bomb to kill a Jew,” or, “Directions to the nearest village where I can shoot Arabs”—very popular searches, page after virtual page of results. Sam would never have so many hits.

Sam boarded the Red Line train at Harvard Square. Some people woke up before noon, and what did it get them? A good seat on the inbound 8:45, maybe. Maybe it got them that seat. But at 3:30 every seat was good, and there were plenty to go around. Perhaps this is why Sam worked the late shift at Celerity. It also meant less interaction with the bankers themselves, some of whom were Sam’s former classmates—some of whom, in that former life, he had asked out on dates. In certain parts of the temp world his mastery of Excel still held cachet, still commanded attention; but less so, increasingly less so, in the five-year alumni report he kept buried, but constantly updated, deep inside his heart.

The Google had helped, once. His poor little Google! Was there nothing to be done?

Arriving at work five minutes late, Sam ducked into the bathroom and changed into his work clothes, a pair of khakis and his tie, hopping around on one foot while he tried to keep from stepping on the bathroom floor. The toilet with its scan-flusher kept flushing and flushing behind him as he hopped.

"Are you okay in there?" someone asked when he was almost done, causing him to trip into the door, the right side of his face momentarily keeping the rest of him from falling.

When Sam finally entered the cavernous main space of Celerity’s Creative Services, where a thousand monkeys clacked away at a thousand PowerPoint presentations, he tried to keep his head up proudly. He had once quit this place so that he could write his epic, and when he returned some of his coworkers—made fun of him. They resented his ambition, and even more they resented his failure. The Creative Services department at Celerity was like a small town in an American movie from which everyone dreamt of escaping. It was the end of the line—and to return, at the end of the line, to the end of the line, was not what Sam had planned for himself.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
"Gessen proves himself not only a capable observer but a natural novelist with a warm gun . . . [and] a nice comic sureness. . . . Gessen's style is good-natured and ripe enough to allow a satisfying sweetness to exist in these characters."
-The New York Times Book Review

"Cruelty and affection and erudition and innocence are so perfectly balanced in these stories, they almost make me wish I were young again."
-Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections and The Discomfort Zone

Meet the Author

Keith Gessen was born in Russia and currently lives in Brooklyn. He was educated at Harvard and Syracuse. He is a founder of the magazine n+1 and translator of the National Book Critics Circle Award-winning Voices from Chernobyl. His work has also appeared in the Dissent, the New Yorker, and the New York Review of Books. All the Sad Young Literary Men is his first book.

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