All the Sad Young Literary Men

All the Sad Young Literary Men

by Keith Gessen
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All the Sad Young Literary Men 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
KevinJoseph More than 1 year ago
I can understand why Keith Gessen's peculiar novel, "All the Sad Young Literary Men," has drawn such divergent reviews, ranging from Jonathan Yardley naming it as one of the best novels of 2008 to various Amazon readers dismissing it as a disjointed series of whiny elitist sketches peppered with esoteric information about Russian history. This is a different sort of novel than many readers will have encountered previously, demanding a degree of patience before the three narrative threads and 1917 Revolution references coalesce into a meaningful whole.

Organized in three parts, each consisting of three chapters told from the point of view of Sam, Mark or Keith, it takes a while for Gessen's voice to establish itself and for any semblance of plot or theme to emerge. That each of the protagonists is a Russian immigrant who's struggling to distill a career from a liberal arts, Ivy education, while failing miserably to forge a satisfying romantic relationship, makes it especially challenging to keep their personas and story lines from blurring into one another. Indeed you get the strong impression not only that first person narrator, Keith, is the author's alter ego, but that Sam and Mark also present little more than splintered parts of Gessen himself.

These criticisms aside, there are some undeniably funny and moving passages in this most literary offering. Mark's digs on life in Syracuse, NY (which I can appreciate having grown up there) are spot on. And his musings about our young literary men's ill-preparedness for important life decisions will resonate with all of us who have made critical decisions without appreciating their import until later: "The trouble is that when you're young you don't know enough; you are constantly being lied to, in a hundred ways, so your ideas of what the world is like are jumbled; when you imagine the life you want for yourself, you imagine things that don't exist. If I could have gone back and explained to my younger self what the real options were, what the real consequences of certain decisions were going to be, my younger self would have known what to choose."

So my advice is to give Gessen the benefit of the doubt and read this one all the way through, applying the proper amount of attention and trust. By part three of the novel, when Gessen shows how the protagonists are connected through their love interests and connects the dots illustrating the parallels between the Russian Revolution and the recent return to power of the Democratic party in the United States, you can really appreciate what this unique novel is all about.