Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Monday, October 10, 2011

"All the Sad Young Literary Men" by Keith Gessen

Maybe the title should have clued me in, but this book is kind of depressing. It chronicles vignettes from the lives of Mark, Sam and Keith, three college-educated young men with writerly ambitions. In the first section, the three characters are young and idealistic, their lives ahead of them and the world at their feet, but the reader can somehow sense they are spinning their wheels. The second section finds them feeling like failures, wretched and alone. In the third section, they've all achieved their own blandly homogeneous and hollow happiness because they have . . . settled. I don't think they realized they had settled, but I realized it.

At least each section is depressing for a new reason.

It was too bothersome for me to distinguish between the three main characters. I kept getting their backgrounds and family histories mixed up, and the men themselves seemed to be interchangeable. This made it more difficult for me to invest myself in the story. For example, in Mark's second section, I couldn't for the life of me remember who Leslie was, but I didn't care enough to flip back and find out. (Although, had I been reading this on my Kindle, I think I could have found it in me to expend the effort needed to Search This Book and find where her character was introduced.) Maybe I just didn't pay enough attention, but I began to think this would have been a better book if it had been called "The Sad Young Literary Man" (though maybe that's not quite as catchy a title) and the three main characters had been combined into one.

At the risk of boring you to tears, I will share with you the notes I finally forced myself to take in order to keep the Sad Young Men separate in my mind: Mark Grossman used to be married to Sasha, tried online dating and internet porn, and wants to date Celeste but sleeps with Leslie instead. Sam Mitnick is Jewish, loves Israel, was dating Talia and Arielle at the same time, lost them both, slept with Miss Perfect (Katie) and wrote his name in her book, and is supposed to be writing a great Zionist novel but never does. Keith (Gessen?) idolized a critic named Morris Binkel, spent a summer moving furniture, knows Russian, and roomed with Ferdinand, who dated one of Al Gore's (fictionalized) daughters. Hmmm, they sound fairly different from each other when I list their little bios one after another that way. So maybe it was just me?

Anyway, it's not as if this was a horrible read. I didn't gag on the writing, and it wasn't one of those books I dreaded picking up. It went by quickly enough, and I enjoyed reading it. But I won't be shouting it from the rooftops or pushing my friends to read it. I'm also very glad it only cost $3.97.

No comments: