I picked up Keith Gessen’s first novel, All the Sad Young Literary Men, about 18 months too late. It was published in April of 2008, but I didn’t read it until recently. You might think that there is nothing wrong with this. After all, we routinely read books several decades–or even centuries–after they are written; what harm could a couple of months do? But Gessen’s novel is particularly wrapped up in a specific time period, namely the decade from 1998-2008. Reading it now may make you nostalgic for the very recent past or, quite possibly, make details from three years ago seem especially dated.
The reason the novel is so connected to a particular time period is that the sadness of all the titular sad young literary men is caused by a sense of global ennui, a collective disappointment or sense of betrayal by the world at large. Sam, Mark, and Keith are all intelligent, liberal, worldly, politically conscious, vain, self-obsessed, overeducated, lazy, Jewish, sad, young recent college graduates of the last decade. Their stories don’t really intersect at all—Gessen gives them varying degrees of tangential connection, but never has them interact. The novel is cut into three parts, and each character gets his own chapter in each part. And while these stories move along independently of one another, they inhabit the same landscape. Continue reading »