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.