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Faces To Watch 2008

December 30, 2007|Scott Timberg; David L. Ulin

KEITH GESSEN

NEW YORK LIT WORLD NOVELIST

If Benjamin Kunkel is the pretty boy of under-40 New York intelligentsia, the Russian-born Gessen is, rumor has it, the brain. This spring, the Harvard-educated thirtysomething will release "All the Sad Young Literary Men," a novel about, well, other bookish, male, Ivy League-schooled bohos in New York -- their burning literary, academic and journalistic ambition, their pain. It's a powerfully intelligent book that stylistically falls somewhere between a narcissistic wallow and a Tom Perrotta-style satire.

The novel could launch Gessen as the next hot young guy novelist, or it could be the kind of book read by the few hundred people who write about books for a living. What's certain is that the East Coast media will take it very seriously indeed.

Alongside Kunkel, author of the novel "Indecision," Gessen runs the journal n+1, a hip, harder-edged, New York-based rival to what Gessen sees as the overfriendly, softheaded, West Coast-inflected McSweeney's and the Believer. It's hailed for its seriousness; Gessen has called it "a research institute that has taken on the form of a literary magazine."

-- Scott Timberg

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KELLY LINK

EDGY SCI-FI WRITER, AIMING FOR KIDS

For about a decade Link has been drawing attention for stories that tangle science fiction, fantasy, horror and fairy tales without giving up their literary aspirations. With her husband, Gavin Grant, she runs the below-the-radar Small Beer Press, which puts out edgy, like-minded work from an old brick mill on the edge of Northampton, Mass. Link's two collections, "Magic for Beginners" and "Stranger Things Happen," have created a following among readers of experimental and "slipstream" fiction with its stories of people who disappear into handbags and convenience store clerks trying to figure out how to serve their zombie clientele.

In the fall, Viking puts out a collection of her stories (including some already published) aimed at young adults. Though her work is full of knowing winks and postmodern trickery, she could break out with kids -- oddly enough -- in a way that she hasn't with the supposedly more sophisticated adult readership.

-- S.T.

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LYDIA MILLET

NOVELIST WITH A VISIONARY EYE

The Arizona-based writer is hardly a newcomer; her first novel, "Omnivores," came out in 1996, and she won a PEN USA Literary Award in Fiction for 2003's "My Happy Life." But even among the most adventurous readers, Millet remains woefully under-appreciated, an author more read about than read.

That's too bad, because Millet's got a visionary sensibility, marked by a voice that is by turns biting and dark. Her books take on the absurdity of contemporary American culture, poking at it from the outside in. "George Bush, Dark Prince of Love" portrays a woman living in a trailer park who becomes obsessed with the 41st president; "Everyone's Pretty," meanwhile, involves a drunk, messianic pornographer over the course of three days in L.A.

Millet's sixth novel, "How the Dead Dream," comes out at the end of January, and it may finally get her the attention she deserves. The story of an L.A. real estate developer who becomes increasingly fascinated by disappearing animal species, the book seeks to walk a line between satire and social commentary, portraying a world at once daringly off-kilter and utterly recognizable as our own.

-- David L. Ulin

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