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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction



All the Sad Young Literary Men

by
Keith Gessen


[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]


general information | review summaries | review and reception notes | links | about the author

To purchase All the Sad Young Literary Men



Title: All the Sad Young Literary Men
Author: Keith Gessen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008
Length: 242 pages
Availability: All the Sad Young Literary Men - US
All the Sad Young Literary Men - UK
All the Sad Young Literary Men - Canada

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

Had a look, and it seems readable enough, but doesn't seem worth the trouble (the trouble of reviewing it, that is)


Chances that we will review it:

Fairly small, but it's possible -- though if so, we'll wait until the launch-hype has died far down

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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Bookforum . 4-5/2008 Jon Baskin
Financial Times . 28/4/2008 Melissa Katsoulis
The Guardian . 5/4/2008 Catherine Taylor
The Independent . 23/4/2008 Jonathan Gibbs
Independent on Sunday D 20/4/2008 Tim Martin
The LA Times . 13/4/2008 Richard Eder
New Statesman . 12/6/2008 Natasha Periyan
The NY Observer . 9/4/2008 Alexandra Jacobs
The NY Rev. of Books . 1/5/2008 Joyce Carol Oates
The NY Sun . 3/4/2008 Hua Hsu
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/4/2008 Andrew O'Hagan
The Observer . 27/4/2008 Toby Lichtig
San Francisco Chronicle . 13/4/2008 Reagan Upshaw
The Telegraph . 26/4/2008 Sameer Rahim
The Telegraph . 18/5/2008 Ed King
The Times . 11/4/2008 Tom Cox
The Village Voice . 8/4/2008 Alexander Nazaryan
The Washington Post . 20/4/2008 Jonathan Yardley


  Review Consensus:

  The full range of reactions, and limited enthusiasm about the presentation of the stories, but generally think there's some talent at work here

  From the Reviews:
  • "He is less self-assured as a fiction writer than as an essayist. His characters and settings can be sketchy, and the whole enterprise threatens to tilt into the mix of memoir and cultural criticism that is n+1's specialty. (...) But Gessen does have something to say, even many things, about the terrain he covers, and that is not always the case for first outings. (...) We would have to spend more time with these characters, and be put through more with them, to understand what really lies beneath their restless striving. In this sense, All the Sad Young Literary Men feels like an outline for a more ambitious project. Letís hope that it is." - Jon Baskin, Bookforum

  • "Nothing terribly thrilling happens but thereís lots of clever talk. Ultimately this accomplished study of youthful ideologues provides a new take on that hinterland between university and adulthood." - Melissa Katsoulis, Financial Times

  • "Gessen's caustic, pained debut of America during the scandal-ridden last years of Bill Clinton's presidency. (...) (A) dazzling novel whose intellectualism is never forced or overblown." - Catherine Taylor, The Guardian

  • "People who enjoy seeing disappointment and selfishness raised to a kind of romantic sublime will not be disappointed. This is an excellent first novel that knows exactly how to nudge a character close to the edge of the reader's tolerance, without ever letting them lose their charm and interest. (...) This careful integration of the serious and comic sets the book apart from, say, the novels of Jonathan Safran Foer, with which it otherwise shares a certain tone of intellectual self-indulgence. Self-indulgent or not, All the Sad Young Literary Men marks a welcome entry into the American novel." - Jonathan Gibbs, The Independent

  • "There is a lot of faux-sonorous prose about history and literature, much in the manner of a slightly less lispy Adam Thirlwell. (...) Each one of these fairly tiresome characters gets a suspiciously easy ride from the author, and -- although certain parts suggest Gessen may yet write a good book about something else -- it's hard to see this cramped little novel appealing to many people outside his immediate circle. These Sad Young Literary Men really need to get out more." - Tim Martin, Independent on Sunday

  • "Gessen's eye is superbly fitted to spy out this scene for his fictional stories of three young intellectuals. For one thing, as a founding editor of n+1, perhaps the liveliest of the newer literary magazines, he has been bobbing along in their midst. For another (and this is more unusual), he writes not just from the inside but from the outside as well. His achingly comic command of the hopes, vanities, foibles and quandaries of his peers has produced something better than fashionably maneuvered satire. It is irony (of a rare cosmopolitan sort) that this Russian-born writer brings to the New York scene, a pond that takes itself to be the ocean. He evokes the world's culture along with our own." - Richard Eder, The Los Angeles Times

  • "Gessenís debut novel is a coming-of-age story which accepts the possibility that not everyone comes of age. His skill lies in making these overprivileged young men as likeable as they are laughable." - Natasha Periyan, New Statesman

  • "Not to dismiss Keith Gessen, who can be wry, amusing and -- that loathsome word -- readable. But there is inherent peril in producing a book so entranced with the idea of the sad young literary man in general." - Alexandra Jacobs, The New York Observer

  • "Beginning with its risky yet playful title, All the Sad Young Literary Men is a rueful, undramatic, mordantly funny, and frequently poignant sequence of sketch-like stories loosely organized by chronology and place and the prevailing theme of youthful literary ideals vis-á-vis literary accomplishment. (...) Gessen's humor is persistently Seinfeldian, avoiding the excesses of savage comedy or satire, or anything like raging spiritual despair, for All the Sad Young Literary Men is a post-postmodernist work of fiction in which spiritual impotence is the great subtextual theme, even as sexual promiscuity is the norm." - Joyce Carol Oates, The New York Review of Books

  • "Still, there is something weirdly fetching about All the Sad Young Literary Men -- weird because the book describes such a tiny, occasionally infuriating world, one where progressive magazines and book reviews might save the world and crossing paths with the vice presidentís daughter is just a part of a Harvard education. It is a world of less-than-practical professions. And yet there is something affecting about the impossibly great aspirations shared by Mr. Gessenís trio, especially as it shields them from thinking too deeply about the cowardly deeds that pock their day-to-day lives." - Hua Hsu, The New York Sun

  • "Readers who find the three main characters irritating will only be obeying one of the narrativeís central commands, but Gessen manages several moral turnarounds, and before long the highly subjective manners of the novel begin to nurture a sense of political understanding. (...) Complications abound, and some of them are the bookís fault, but Gessenís style is good-natured and ripe enough to allow a satisfying sweetness to exist in these characters as they journey around the carnival of their own selfishness." - Andrew O'Hagan, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Gessen is reminiscent of another serious young hotshot from this side of the pond, Adam Thirlwell. (...) It is no bad thing for a first-time novelist to write about what he knows. Now that Gessen has, enjoyably, got this out of his system, perhaps we can expect a follow-up with a little more gravitas. He has the potential to be very good indeed." - Toby Lichtig, The Observer

  • "(T)he novel has the tangled plot of a film like Pulp Fiction. Characters are introduced, disappear and then reappear in another setting with a different partner. Gessen understands his male characters well enough; I suspect they're all aspects of himself. But none of his female characters are compelling; they're basically agents to move the men around. You find yourself leafing back through the pages" - Reagan Upshaw, San Francisco Chronicle

  • "Keith Gessen is a skilful enough writer to give depth and ambiguity to his types." - Sameer Rahim, The Telegraph

  • "All the Sad Young Literary Young Men is packed with clever one-liners and comic set pieces that seem destined for the big screen. But Gessen's vision of young adulthood is surprisingly bleak and at the heart of his novel is a sense of rootlessness and disconnection." - Ed King, The Telegraph

  • "Gessen is very good at interpreting the differences between the way a person looks at the world at the age of 20 and the way they look at the world at 30, even if most of his 30-year-olds act like 45- year-olds. By the end, his young fogeys seem almost like an intriguing, previously unchronicled subsect of Generation X, their adventures a pleasing antithesis to the debauchery of an early Bret Easton Ellis novel." - Tom Cox, The Times

  • "Gessen, in a thinly disguised roman á clef, traces the post-collegiate wanderings of three young men, but barely musters the craftsmanship of a Tuesday-afternoon e-mail." - Alexander Nazaryan, The Village Voice

  • "This interesting and agreeable first novel, by a young writer who already packs a formidable resumé, is a considerably better-than-average exercise in slacker fiction, a genre of which I confess to having only limited knowledge (.....) (H)e has a deft satiric touch and a nice feel for irony. He gets a little soft in the closing chapter, which mixes Keith's evolving personal life with Washington's evolving political life in 2006 and 2007, but ending novels is almost never easy, and it's a perennial problem for first novelists. It will be interesting to see whether, the second time around, Gessen pulls himself out of self and into the larger world, or whether he succumbs to the navel-gazing that too many literary American novelists find so tempting." - Jonathan Yardley, The Washington Post

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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Notes about the Reviews
and the Book's Reception
:

       Even before the official US release date (14 April) we found twenty reviews of All the Sad Young Literary Men -- a very impressive number for a debut. Not entirely surprisingly, the general approach seems to have been a wary one -- moans about yet another literary wannabe writing about being a 'young literary man' -- and the early reviews greeted the book with distinctly limited enthusiasm (and a couple of outright rejections). Still, the breadth of coverage is impressive, and it'll be interesting to see whether the buying-public bites.

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Links:

All the Sad Young Literary Men: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary American fiction

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About the Author:

       Russian-born Keith Gessen is one of the founding editors of n+1.

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© 2008 the complete review

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