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All the Sad Young Literary Men Paperback – March 31, 2009

3.2 out of 5 stars 20 customer reviews

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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.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143114778
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143114772
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,613,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a book which, sadly, may one day be looked back upon as developmental genius while we celebrate the prodigy and erudition of Keith Gessen. Unfortunately, that day will only follow future works produced by Mr. Gessen that carry more creative literary power than “All The Sad Young Literary Men.” This is not to say that this is a particularly a bad book…in fact it has many strong points, but it is one that seems too intent on being bourgeois, sophisticated in its literary hipness and concentrating too much on its clever erudition all the while ignoring reader burden and, most importantly, the enjoyment of the story. And really this is a shame because Gessen clearly possesses a great deal of talent and I believe that given the proper storyline and perhaps some literary maturity, is capable of providing a truly marvelous piece of creative fiction.

The book is essentially about three individually disconnected young adults with aspirations to literary greatness. Mark already possesses a post graduate degree and is nearing a doctorate in Russian History, penning his thesis on Russian revolutionary Roman Sidorovich. But with the subsequent dissolution of his young marriage, he spirals into the vast world of internet porn and hook-ups while becoming morbidly concerned about his blog and the number of declining hits. Sam gets an advance for a far reaching Jewish/Zionist novel in which he turns out to be utterly incompetent to write, having never even visited Israel. Keith is from Russia and is an employed critic of America’s military efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

All are portrayed as monumentally cynical, pretentious and hyper-educated, so much so that this sensibility affects each of their personal lives in sad and almost predictable ways.
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