From Publishers Weekly
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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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