All the Sad Young Lit­er­ary Men

  • Review
By – November 10, 2011

Kei­th Gessen’s remark­able first nov­el fol­lows the career-ori­ent­ed and per­son­al strug­gles of three up-and-com­ing writ­ers, Sam, Mark, and Kei­th, who are unit­ed in their search for sat­is­fac­tion and mean­ing in their lives. Sam is unyield­ing in his desire to write an epic nov­el about Zion­ism (despite his fair­ly unde­vel­oped ideas on the sub­ject); Mark, a lovelorn grad­u­ate stu­dent study­ing the Russ­ian Rev­o­lu­tion, is severe­ly dis­tract­ed in his attempts to fin­ish his dis­ser­ta­tion after a breakup with his long­time Russ­ian girl­friend; Kei­th, an earnest jour­nal­ist whose nar­ra­tive is told in first-per­son, tries to nav­i­gate the world after his mother’s death in some of the most heart­felt sec­tions of the novel. 

Gessen presents his char­ac­ters as both self­pi­ty­ing in their intel­lec­tu­al and roman­tic imma­tu­ri­ty, and also endear­ing in their mix of naiveté and pre­co­cious tal­ent, unbri­dled enthu­si­asm, and utter malaise. Although a chal­leng­ing under­tak­ing, Gessen’s nov­el ably cap­tures the polit­i­cal and social milieu of the last decade through the lens of these three arche­typ­al nar­ra­tives. Gessen also suc­ceeds as he thor­ough­ly details the lives of these three men, in their some­times comedic, some­times solemn, enor­mous­ly cap­ti­vat­ing march towards adulthood.

Phil Sandick is a grad­u­ate of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Penn­syl­va­nia and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wis­con­sin-Madi­son. He has taught cours­es in lit­er­a­ture, com­po­si­tion, and cre­ative writ­ing since 2006. Phil is cur­rent­ly study­ing rhetoric and com­po­si­tion at the Uni­ver­si­ty of North Car­oli­na-Chapel Hill.

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