All the Sad, Young, Literary Men
What if it was happening, in New York, not a few blocks from them, what if they knew someone to whom it was happening, or who was making it happen — what if they were blind to it? He wants to charm us with their bids for literary celebrity, starting by showing us they are lost from the start. Yet why should this generation feel so particularly lost? It all begins at college.
Keith shares a room with Ferdinand, the first of many foils to the sad young literary men, who is mysteriously, or so it seems to Keith, successful with women. Keith tries to keep up, but is too quickly drunk, too shy to speak to the girls he was talking to the night before, altogether too gauche. Keith shuffles from shared room to sofa most nights.
Here is the solemn, noble Lincoln; here is Monica Lewinsky, lips parted; and here is a younger President Clinton with possible future president Al Gore. Into Jordan, Lebanon, the Sinai. He had two women, he loved them both, and he could not, would not, imagine it otherwise. He phones her:. There was a silence on the other end. The sad young literary men are always coming up with grandiose metaphors to help them think about their lives, but the metaphors they choose are always on the verge of collapse.
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But were these things worth having? Sam may be ridiculously self-obsessed but we tuck him in and turn off the light. Keith wants Binkel to say he sees something in him. He is comforted at first to see that Mark, the third sad young literary man, has no Google presence at all, but then he decides to phone the search engine:.
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I was in the mid-three hundreds before. Gessen has talked about wanting to reclaim characters that more usually appear in Judd Apatow movies The year-old Virgin and Knocked Up , seeing this as a stand against the notion that only the Holocaust is worth writing about. There is lots of seepage of tone and mood between the stories, which can make the three men seem indistinguishable. He dates two real women: Celeste, a New York-based journalist whom he courts assiduously, and Leslie, a fellow student whom he sleeps with accidentally.
New to speaking to women who are not Sasha, he worries about being reachable. He uses a function on his phone, but it becomes expensive; then he orders unlimited use of , but it comes to seem inadequate, so he buys Caller ID:. The novel has three parts, like a well-made play, and this is the limp second act. Sam is in the West Bank with a Swedish-led human rights group, which sends him to stay with Akhmed, a Palestinian English teacher. Being in Jenin allows Sam to come to terms with the fact that even in the Occupied Territories there are times when nothing happens.
Sam turned to a group of men at another of the plastic tables.
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One of them was smiling at Sam, as if he wanted to say something, share the good news. Sam smiled back, because he wanted to share the good news, too. The man held up his hand with the fingers spread out: five.
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And then he made a throat-slitting motion. And then he held up his hand again.
Five dead. When he finally meets a real poet, a man he admires, a peer of Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson, and William Shakespeare, Orlando thinks he will find someone to whom he can unburden his soul. He has much to learn about the careerism of the working writer.
Orlando naively tries to turn the dinner conversation to poetry. Diver is a psychiatrist. When the book opens, Zuckerman is feeling alienated from his much-loved father, who disapproves of a short story that Zuckerman plans to publish.
Zuckerman is hurt; he also thinks his father is exaggerating the danger and missing the point the point for Zuckerman, as for most young writers, is getting his story published, regardless of anything else. Highway has written a paper in his usual style — full of pompous nonsense.
Just read the poems and work out whether you like them and why. I think Gessen is especially good on some of the humiliations that tend to go hand in hand with such aspirations. One of my favorites is a well-observed moment with Sam, a Harvard grad who has been contracted to write the Great Zionist epic a comically imposing task, something immediately apparent to anyone but a cocky kid just out of school. At one point, Gessen writes,. Speaking only for myself, I can relate to being often more interested in how my opponent thinks and in understanding the roots of his or her passion than in arguing my own position.
This is not usually very effective. And as a person who reads far more fiction than nonfiction, I can also relate to the part about being shaky on the facts. By Jason Diamond. These are some of my favorite young literary men of literature.
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