Risk, Disappointment and Distraction in Keith Gessen’s All the Sad Young Literary Men
- Publisher: European Association for American Studies
Keith Gessen’s debut novel is not a “post-9/11” text in the manner of Falling Man or Terrorist. It is not concerned, explicitly, with the aftermath of the attacks. Like many “post-9/11” texts, however, it asks questions about the ability of twenty-first century writers to tackle big issues—tragedy, violence, history. The three main characters—Sam, Mark and Keith—are Ivy League-educated writers with an extensive knowledge of history, but have disengaged from history precisely because they live in books. This article explores the ways in which Gessen seems ironically to make writing the opposite of risk in an increasingly risky world. For these young men it becomes, along with Google searches and internet pornography, a form of distraction. Gessen poses a problem: writing has a responsibility to address historic events contemporaneously but increasingly, in competition with the visual image, only has power or purpose when viewed retrospectively as part of an earlier structure of feeling.