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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
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    Juliet's Nurse

    Lois Leveen 9781476757445

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All the Sad Young Literary Men

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All the Sad Young Literary Men Cover

ISBN13: 9780670018550
ISBN10: 0670018554
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Standard
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Excerpt

His Google was shrinking. It was part of a larger failing, maybe, certainly, but to see it quantified... to see it numerically confirmed... it was cruel. It wasn’t nice. Sam considered the alternatives: he had friends with no Google at all, zero hits, and he even had friends, like Mark Grossman, whose name drew up the hits of other Mark Grossmans, the dentist Grossman and the banker Grossman and Grossmans who had completed 10-kilometer runs. But Sam wondered—the afternoon was young and there was time for it—whether Mark Grossman might not be better off. A man of the future, he would appear on Google yet. There, he would say when that moment came. I, too, am Grossman.

Sam: not Grossman. Sam: not even the size of Sam-of-old, Sam of last year, Sam of two weeks ago. After he’d failed to produce the great Zionist epic he’d been contracted to produce, after he’d stopped writing the occasional freelance article on the second Intifada, after he’d resumed his temp job to begin paying back the advance, there was, in the world, increasingly less Sam. [He backed away from the computer, into the dark, heavy tapestry that split his living room in two and composed of this pathetic little desk and shelf, with its mass of undigested papers, its pile of battered books—a tax-deductible home office. Occasionally he photographed it, this consolation, this small triumph over the masters of his fate. His Google, too, had been a consolation once: if in those heady days, a book deal in his pocket, a girlfriend of complex cosmetic habits in his bedroom, his little AOL mailbox was momentarily silent and unmoving he simply strolled over to Google to confirm that he still existed. Did he ever! Three-hundred-some-odd pages of Samuel Mitnick on the World-Wide-Web, accessible to people everywhere, at any time. Want some Sam? Here you go. Some more? Click, click. Even absolutist states, even China had Google—and there were a lot of people, he’d thought then, in China.

But not enough, apparently, or maybe they just weren’t clicking through... for here he was.] He wasn’t due at Celerity until four, it was barely one, and he needed to get out. Tomorrow night his date with Christine, author of sex advice, he should really stay and clean up, clean himself up, but this apartment was more than he could bear. And, in any case, if Christine hadn’t seen the signs by now, she’d never see them. His unreliable car; his jeans with a hole in them just above the ankle. From what? He had no idea. They would have dinner, dinner at Fae’s, the place where people saw you in the window when they walked by. He looked too shoddy to leave the house but he left the house. Out there: no Google; in here: Google; on Google: no Sam.

Or almost no Sam. Twenty-two. He was at twenty-two and plunging.

He patted his pocket for keys and moved out the door. Sam had other problems, maybe, or anyway the world did. Enter “misery” or “illness” or “plague” and what you saw was pages upon pages. Palestine. Sharon-Arafat. “Occupation.” Put things in quotes and you narrowed the search, and yet, “Instructions for making a bomb to kill a Jew,” or, “Directions to the nearest village where I can shoot Arabs”—very popular searches, page after virtual page of results. Sam would never have so many hits.

Sam boarded the Red Line train at Harvard Square. Some people woke up before noon, and what did it get them? A good seat on the inbound 8:45, maybe. Maybe it got them that seat. But at 3:30 every seat was good, and there were plenty to go around. Perhaps this is why Sam worked the late shift at Celerity. It also meant less interaction with the bankers themselves, some of whom were Sam’s former classmates—some of whom, in that former life, he had asked out on dates. In certain parts of the temp world his mastery of Excel still held cachet, still commanded attention; but less so, increasingly less so, in the five-year alumni report he kept buried, but constantly updated, deep inside his heart.

The Google had helped, once. His poor little Google! Was there nothing to be done?

Arriving at work five minutes late, Sam ducked into the bathroom and changed into his work clothes, a pair of khakis and his tie, hopping around on one foot while he tried to keep from stepping on the bathroom floor. The toilet with its scan-flusher kept flushing and flushing behind him as he hopped.

"Are you okay in there?" someone asked when he was almost done, causing him to trip into the door, the right side of his face momentarily keeping the rest of him from falling.

When Sam finally entered the cavernous main space of Celerity’s Creative Services, where a thousand monkeys clacked away at a thousand PowerPoint presentations, he tried to keep his head up proudly. He had once quit this place so that he could write his epic, and when he returned some of his coworkers—made fun of him. They resented his ambition, and even more they resented his failure. The Creative Services department at Celerity was like a small town in an American movie from which everyone dreamt of escaping. It was the end of the line—and to return, at the end of the line, to the end of the line, was not what Sam had planned for himself.

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alsek, June 3, 2008 (view all comments by alsek)
Erudite first novel, both funny and sad. Gessen writes about Sam, Mark, and Keith as they struggle to find meaning and purpose in their post-undergraduate lives.
Highly recommended.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780670018550
Author:
Gessen, Keith
Publisher:
Penguin Books
Subject:
Authors
Subject:
Young men
Subject:
Literary
Subject:
Children's 12-Up - Fiction - General
Subject:
General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Paperback / softback
Publication Date:
April 2008
Binding:
Paperback
Grade Level:
from 12
Language:
English
Illustrations:
3 b/w photos
Pages:
256
Dimensions:
9.50x6.00x.93 in. .93 lbs.
Age Level:
from 18

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

All the Sad Young Literary Men Used Hardcover
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 256 pages Viking Books - English 9780670018550 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "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." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Gessen has captured perfectly the narcissistic ennui of privileged youth for whom self-flagellation is an art form; or, as Dave Eggers remarks in the acknowledgments to A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, 'The Self-Aggrandizement Disguised as Self-Flagellation as Even Higher Art Form.'" (read the entire New York Review of Books review)
"Review" by , "A fiercely intelligent, darkly funny first novel."
"Review" by , "[A]s clever and self-consciously important and intermittently brilliant as his magazine....One of the pleasures of Gessen's novel is how well he reproduces the speech patterns of brainy, left-wing Ivy Leaguers..."
"Review" by , "The themes of 'Like Vaclav' aren't quite as sustainable in novel form, but Gessen still manages to tackle serious political subjects while poking fun at how seriously his characters take themselves. Strongly recommended."
"Review" by , "[His] failure to sufficiently individualize the characters has the makings of a fatal flaw but is somewhat offset by Gessen's cutting humor. For more compelling male coming-of-age stories, steer readers to Nick Hornby or Tom Perrotta."
"Review" by , "Cruelty and affection and erudition and innocence are so perfectly balanced in these stories, they almost make me wish I were young again."
"Review" by , "Here is a funny, felt book by a writer supremely attuned to the vagaries of love and history, or at least to the wounding abstractions that often seem like the vagaries of love and history, especially to overwound young men. The distinction, I think, lies at the heart of this powerful, surprising fiction. Whether we like it or not, Keith Gessen has written an engaged and engaging debut."
"Review" by , "Before age 30, Gessen made his mark as a public intellectual and literary critic. But his artistic debut may dwarf those other, considerable contributions. Gessen's fiction teases out subtle insights into travails both political and romantic, and with powerful humor. Heaven will take note."
"Review" by , "[I]nteresting and agreeable...a considerably better-than-average exercise in slacker fiction....There can be no doubt...that [Gessen] has plenty of talent to work with."
"Review" by , "Complications abound, and some of them are the book's fault, but Gessen's 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."
"Review" by , "[Gessen's] achingly comic command of the hopes, vanities, foibles and quandaries of his peers has produced something better than fashionably maneuvered satire....He evokes the world's culture along with our own."
"Review" by , "Even as a novel of ideas, All the Sad Young Literary Men feels empty — more poseur than purposeful. Gessen has smarts and ambition and talent. But until he gets his head out of his own backside, this literary movement that he claims to be leading will remain curiously inert."
"Review" by , "It reminds me less of the Fitzgerald collection its name plays off than the movie St. Elmo's Fire....What this book tells about Keith Gessen is that he is out to revive the novel of political commitment, and bring to the bludgeoned Left a bit of lugubrious fun."
"Review" by , "Gessen's writing is accessible, but he sprinkles in so much philosophy, politics, obscure figures from the Russian revolution and Israeli-Palestinian history that having Google at the ready improves the reading experience....[An] invigorating first novel."
"Synopsis" by ,
A novel of love, sadness, wasted youth, and literary and intellectual ambition-"a wincingly funny debut" (Vogue)

Keith Gessen is a Brave and trenchant new literary voice. Known as an award-winning translator of Russian and a book reviewer for publications including The New Yorker and The New York Times, Gessen makes his debut with this critically acclaimed novel, a charming yet scathing portrait of young adulthood at the opening of the twenty-first century. The novel charts the lives of Sam, Mark, and Keith as they overthink their college years, underthink their love lives, and struggle to find a semblance of maturity, responsibility, and even literary fame.

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