All The Young Literary Sad-Sacks
by Tyler Coates
As a guy in his mid-twenties who lives in a metropolitan city, who has had the misfortune of spending the majority of his eight working hours focusing on Gawker instead of his assigned data entry, and has entertained the idea of making a living by writing something groundbreaking, creative, and incredibly inspiring, the title of Keith Gessen’s debut certainly spoke to me.
The book is a sort-of-novel of intermittent stories following three young men who are loosely connected without directly meeting (in a Crash sort of way). The three young men in question – Sam, Mark, and Keith – all find themselves in similar situations; they are living privileged, post-Ivy League-graduate lives wherein they rarely work, chase after women they are not particularly interested in, and generally putter about with creative projects, which range from a dissertation studying a minor Russian revolutionary to writing the great Zionist epic (despite the character’s generally favorable feelings toward the Palestinian cause).
All the Sad Young Literary Men reads like a novel that began with some brilliant ideas about young adulthood that, unfortunately, seem to be weighed down with overt symbolism and analogies, as if Gessen started writing with a list of how Internet porn, Google, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could somehow show us how hard it is being a young man who, despite our culture’s standards of masculinity and feeling, etc., seems to feel a little bit more than he should.
It’d work great as a young adult novel (in the way that The Perks of Being a Wallflower is always found in the adult literature section of Borders, yet no one over eighteen should really be reading it), perhaps as a text for a high school student’s introduction to gender studies, or something.
“Or something” is the most articulate way I can describe everything about this book.
The main reason I didn’t like Gessen’s book was that, frankly, there wasn’t much of a story there. It may be a cop-out to complain that I don’t particularly enjoy books about upper-middle-class young men and their problems with women and aversion to work, but it’s true! Gessen certainly is a good writer; there are several quotable passages that show that he has a great deal of talent.
What the book lacks is a story that makes it worth reading; the three characters (who are essentially the same man, but with different names) don’t make appealing protagonists, and it’s difficult to root for a main character when you can’t remember who’s who.
What is most interesting about Gessen’s book is that Keith, the character who shares the author’s first name, is the only one of the three who narrates his story in the first person. I don’t really want to churn out a ten-page paper discussing this fact, so I’ll let you talk amongst yourselves.
I will say that All the Sad Young Literary Men was better than Gessen’s n+1 colleague Ben Kunkel‘s debut novel, Indecision, which was another post-graduate, post-9/11 tome about men who can’t figure out what the hell they want to do in life and the women who sleep with them because they are female characters written by men who don’t really understand women.
It should also be noted that Keith Gessen dated Emily Gould (because all blog roads lead to Emily Gould), and in her take on her “frenemy’s” book, she accuses him (by way of mentioning that she sent him a text message, as she is wont to do in her online writing) of making some sort of literary contribution to the Apatovian universe.
This is what happens when you Google “Apatovian.”
It’s a valid point, though; if made into a film, wouldn’t we find our three literary heroes played by Seth Rogan, Jason Segel, and Paul Rudd?
Tyler Coates is the contributing editor to This Recording. You can read all about him here.
PRETTY SONGS FOR SAD YOUNG MEN
“Before I Knew” – Basia Bulat (mp3)
“Little Waltz” – Basia Bulat (mp3)
“Birds of Paradise” – Basia Bulat (mp3)
“In The Night” – Basia Bulat (mp3)
PREVIOUSLY ON THIS RECORDING
It should totally win for best haircut.
Those with near supernatural powers.
Molly on How I Met Your Mother.