December 11, 2010

The Inevitable Letdown of the Next Novel

All the Sad Young Literary MenAll the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I suppose it's always hard to judge the next book you read right after reading a book you love. It's hardly fair to poor Keith Gessen and his slim grouping of (sort-of) interlocking stories to immediately follow an awesome, massive novel that was a really beautiful reading experience. So maybe I'm judging more harshly than I would have otherwise, but what can you do?

This was an OK book: I was bored during long stretches, while some sections were skillfully and convincingly written. None of the characters ever really came alive; not enough happened to hold my attention; I didn't particularly care about anything going on. Occasionally my sympathy would be tugged; every once in a while I'd feel a connection. Mostly I just read and read and the words went by and eventually I got impatient and read more quickly so it would be over and I could move on to something else.

I didn't even dislike the book, really, it was just boring, forgettable. Especially in the light of my last book, the bar has already been set so high for writing about relationships in the context of the larger social world, that you really must have extraordinarily keen insights and express them in an effortless, elegant way. The insights offered by this book felt entirely ordinary, the expression nice but nothing special.

Again, this comparison is neither fair nor warranted. It's a pure accident of my reading sequence, but oh well. Part of me is sorry that this book had to be capsized in the massive wake of Freedom, but something had to be. C'est la vie. Moving right along.

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