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All the Sad Young Literary Men Hardcover – April 10, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

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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From Booklist

In his debut novel, Gessen, founding editor of the literary magazine n+1, follows the fortunes of three college graduates struggling to find their footing both in their relationships and in their professional lives. Sam is intent on writing the great Zionist novel, but his visits to the occupied territories only serve to convince him that he is deluded about his goals and his love life. After his marriage fails, Mark humiliates himself through Internet dating and compares his struggles to those of “Menshevik funny-man” and Russian revolutionary Roman Sidorovich, the subject of his doctoral dissertation. Keith takes the world’s problems so seriously that he spends his days worrying and thinking until his girlfriend’s unplanned pregnancy jolts him out of his self-absorption. The three men are only tangentially connected through mutual acquaintances, but their shallow complaints and ineffectual actions are remarkably similar. This failure to sufficiently individualize the characters has the makings of a fatal flaw but is somewhat offset by Gessen’s cutting humor. For more compelling male coming-of-age stories, steer readers to Nick Hornby or Tom Perrotta. --Joanne Wilkinson

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult; First Edition edition (April 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670018554
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670018550
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,551,535 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

63 of 71 people found the following review helpful By Josef K on July 3, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I wanted to like this book. I really did. It sounded like just the kind of book I had been looking for. I awaited it's arrival in the mail with eager anticipation. But it's just not a good book. It's not good at all. It is really and truly one of the worst books I have ever read. And I've read some bad ones.

ALL THE SAD YOUNG LITERARY MEN is a novel about decadence that doesn't seem to know it is a novel about decadence. Ostensibly, it is about three different young Ivy League graduates livining in and around New York, but all three feature the same narrative voice, minimal character development, and barely differentiated story lines. The main literary conceit of the novel is a sort of historical name dropping, ala "But one thing he had learned from the Bolsheviks: history helps those who help themselves." These historical references seem to be thrown in at random; they are never explained, examined, or elaborated upon, and are essentially meaningless. It's sort of like reading movie reviews in The Village Voice, except with historical references pasted in mindlessly instead of pop and alt culture ones. Yeah, being in your 20s is like the Russian revolution, or like the Israelis and Palestinians... nevermind why, nevermind any kind of thought or rational examination of these complicated historical events, nevermind any explanation of the alluded to but never demonstrated "idea"... Mindless stuff.

How bad can it be? Try this sentence opening a paragraph about a main character's reaction to 9/11 [remember these characters live in and around New York City!]: "On the day the World Trade Center was destroyed, Sam watched a lot of television."

There is one good section of the book, pp. 62-75, about a character named Morris Binkel.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Marc Shaw on June 13, 2008
Format: Hardcover
The reviews so far give fairly accurate descriptions of the book: it's basically a collection of short stories of the New Yorker Jewish intellectual slacker variety blah blah blah. And it is indeed a fairly entertaining read. But Gessen, it seems, is not quite novelist material. The stories, each of them built on some fairly clever conceit, the comparison of Israel-Palestine or the Russian Revolution to mid-20s relationships, for example, fail to lend depth to any of the characters. Gessen seems to be about what most inexperienced writers are about: themselves. We have a fairly quick-paced, cursory overview of a few forgettable characters, probably loosely based on the author's post-. The subject matter, the territory itself, is worthwhile, but Gessen never quite slows down to really write, to capture a moment. I was not surprised to learn the author mostly writes magazine articles and reviews for prominent magazines. There are few sublime moments, there is little in the way of vivid imagery, no signature voice. One is left with the feeling that pretty much anyone could have written this, given some time. And yet Mr. Gessen seems to know enough of the right people to get some preferential treatment for his debut novel, as it is prominently featured in all the right bookstores and heavily (and positively) reviewed. Not that it's a ghastly read. It certainly isn't. But its prominence is not quite commensurate with the actual content.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Margaret M. Gregerson on August 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I graded on a curve. Gesson is obviously a bright, adept writer. Nobody knows this better than he does. Or, should I say, his thinly disguised, POV-adled protagonists, who are so thinly disguised, they might as well be naked. I bought this book because of the favorable cover blurbs from two contemporary literary gods, Franzen and Karr, and I want to say to Franzen, you've got a correction coming, and to Karr, Gessen made a liar out of you, join the club. And to anyone, in the future do not invoke the sacred name of F.Scott Fitzgerald for a meandering, plotless, emotionally stakeless novel, no matter how much potential the novelist has.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Roy E. Perry on April 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Presented in alternating chapters, Keith Gessen's debut novel is actually three tangentially related novellas relating the stories of three sad, young, literary men.

A doctoral student in Russian history, the recently divorced Mark turns to online dating and Internet porn. He is distress over his Google rating: the number of hits on his blog are declining.

Sam's ambition is to write the Great Zionist Ep;ic, even though he isn't a practicing Jew, can't read Hebrew, and his project is conceived before he visits Israel and the occupied territories.

Keth, a Russian immigrant, is a liberal politico-cultural critic who apparently stands in as Gessen's alter ego. His comments on America's ill-advised military adventurism is cynical and acerbic.

Blundering their way through life, these three protagonists inflict insult and injury--psychic pain--on themselves and on the women with whom they have love-hate relationships.

Believing themselves to be responsible adults, the three anti-heroes behave as spoiled juveniles who need to grow up, slouching their way toward a lonely middle age.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Joseph VINE VOICE on December 27, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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.
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