‘Observer’ Critic Compares Keith Gessen to Two Authors She Hasn't Read

Photo: Courtesy of observer.com

There it is again, teased on the front page of this week's Observer: yet another profile of a young, buzzy debut author, with all the obligatory cultural touchstones. This time it's Keith Gessen, author of All the Sad Young Literary Men. Alexandra Jacobs compares him (unfavorably) to F. Scott Fitzgerald, who apparently "looms over all first novels by young white male Ivy League graduates." The n + 1 founder is described as "limpid-eyed, sensual mouthed." There's Foer, there's Kunkel, and so on.

But hold on: Where are the quotes? And where's the jump page? Oh wait, it's a review — and on the front page of the second issue of the Observer Review of Books, the pink paper's frothy new answer to dwindling book-review space all across the country.

Whether you agree or disagree with what Jacobs has to say about Gessen in her quite negative review, the real problem is her insistence on rolling in every literary fad she can reference. She readily admits not reading Benjamin Kunkel's Indecision or Jonathan Safran Foer's Everything Is Illuminated, then writes that "the somewhat less-hyped Gessen debut triggers an unwelcome sense of déjà vu all the same." Doesn't that seem a little … facile? From here the piece devolves into observational comedy — Andy Rooney by way of Lee Siegel. Why do these newfangled literary authors keep using their own names? Can't they even invent a name? Enough with the lists and charts! Maybe if they fought in wars, these kids might have something to write about! Fine, fine. Understood. But if lifestyle fiction is the problem, lifestyle book criticism is not the solution. —Boris Kachka

Yappers and Philosophers [NYO]