cover image All the Sad Young Literary Men

All the Sad Young Literary Men

Keith Gessen, . . Viking, $24.95 (242pp) ISBN 978-0-670-01855-0

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.)