Keith Gessen is editor-in-chief of n+1, a twice-yearly magazine of literature, politics, and culture based in New York City.
Gessen graduated from Harvard College and earned his MFA in Creative Writing from Syracuse University in 2004. Gessen, who was born in Russia, has written about Russia for The Atlantic and the New York Review of Books. Gessen has also written about books for magazines including Dissent, Slate, and New York, where he was the regular book critic.
His first novel, All the Sad Young Literary Men, was published in April 2008.
Topic: All The Sad Young Literary Men
Keith Gessen: I will preface this. So, Mark begins the book happily married, he lives in Queens with his wife, then he decides to go to graduate school to pursue his interest in Soviet History. And then he and his wife, partly under the pressure of living in Syracuse, break up. And then Mark is all alone in Syracuse and he starts to try to figure out what to do. “History was a science, according to the old Revolutionaries. Its laws could be studied. Mark had spent a year mourning for Sasha, yes, mourning, though it might not always have looked like mourning. He played hockey, he went to Taps and got drunk, and gradually, he began to re-learn some of the movements he’d forgotten, some of the expressions his face needed to make to communicate with people who weren’t Sasha. In the realm of women, in the realm of talking to women, it was particularly hard to tell what they thought. And it was hard to tell what he thought, what Mark thought. When he’d been married, all non-Sasha women seemed equally very attractive. Now he had to make some distinctions. In that first year of his mourning, then, Mark studied the internet. He found some very disturbing things. He found a site, for example, that showed the filmed adventures of a group of men who drove around in a van, or a small bus, technically speaking, it was a van, though they called it a bus, the Butt-Fuck Bus, and picked up young women, college girls, possibly, on the street, and paid them a dollar for filmed sex. ‘Fuck yeah, it’s real,’ claimed the site, anticipating Mark’s objections, for he did have objections. He could not believe that one could simply drive around in a van and pick up women, good-looking women, and get them to have sex with you in your ratty little van. What if Mark were to purchase a van? The Butt-Fuck Bus disturbed Mark’s equilibrium. It wasn’t that he wanted to operate his own porn site, exactly. He was fairly certain that was not why he’d let Sasha go. And the anonymity of the filmed and very graphic sex did not appeal to him. It was the only site to which he ever subscribed and he quickly canceled his subscription. Really, it was the principle of the thing. If there were men Mark’s age driving around in a ratty van, having sex with women with complete strangers and paying them a dollar for the pleasure, even if the women were their friends or aspiring porn stars, or were being paid a lot more than a dollar, still, even then, what was Mark doing in the library? ‘I’ve spent,’ he had said the other day to Celeste, ‘most of my life in libraries.’ This was not quite true. He had spent most of his life in hockey rinks and gyms, and the time he spent in libraries these days was mainly spent looking at naked people on the internet. But he’d not spent- this was the point- a single minute on the Butt-Fuck Bus. Now he watched the wasted hours drift away. All those hours he had spent with Sasha, those warm, gentle hours, gone forever with their marriage’s collapse. Mark was like those stunned post-Soviet Russians during the Draconian free market reforms, watching their 10,000 ruble lifetime savings, still active in their memories, turn overnight into $50.00. The devaluation, it was called, and it hurt.”