The Two New Literary Men

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When two “hot” young Brooklyn authors, Nathaniel Rich and Keith Gessen, release their debut novels within days of each other, it’s impossible not to compare their books. The Village Voice already has, and harshly criticized both: “Young New York lit-mag honchos write novels! (But should maybe stick to editing.)”

Can they really be that bad — despite their glowing blurbs from Gary Shteyngart and Jonathan Franzen? Well, yes and no. Here’s how BB thought they compared:

mayors.jpgThe Mayor’s Tongue by Nathaniel Rich
Riverhead Books, $25

Neither of its two narrative threads tie up neatly at the end, but the more fantastical tale, involving the young, aimless Eugene, an ardent fan of a magical realist writer, is enchanting precisely because it’s so imaginative and surreal. When his love mysteriously disappears while purportedly visiting this famous writer in Italy, Eugene searches for her in the mythical mountain towns near Trieste. The spectacular setting holds a major surprise, but the ending, unfortunately, is a let down. Still, the world Rich (son of op-ed columnist Frank Rich and senior editor at the Paris Review) builds whole cloth, and the sheer ambition behind his meditation on storytelling, suggests a promising follow-up.

The Cobble Hill writer reads at his local bookstore, BookCourt, Thurs., April 17 at 7 pm.

allthesad.jpgAll the Sad Young Literary Men by Keith Gessen
Viking, $25
Gessen, a founding editor of the heady n+1 journal, places us in much more familiar territory: the post-undergrad world of three young Ivy (or highly) educated, East Coast men, who we meet as they bumble through their 20s, cocksure and totally immature. All aspire to make their intellectual mark — Sam sets out to write the “first great Zionist epic,” Mark enrolls in grad school to become a Russian Revolution scholar, Keith strives to find his voice in life and American political commentary.

The scope of their concerns can be humorously narrow, even roll-your-eyes ridiculous at times — “Sex columns and deodorant, also the Gap: These were the forces allowing them into the bedrooms of attractive women who’d studied at Brown.” But as they grow up and become humbled by their sexual debacles and Sisyphean steps toward greatness, their collective stories achieve a richness and depth that’s ultimately touching.

Gessen, who lives in Prospect Heights, reads at McNally Robinson in Soho tomorrow, April 16, at 7 pm.

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