Park is the eldest of the three at 37 but also the one with the most contemporary sensibility: He's a fan of postmodern authors and what he calls "the outer edge of realism," especially slipstream -- fiction that blends literary ambition with genres like horror and fantasy. (He also writes a monthly science-fiction column, called Astral Weeks, for latimes.com.)
While many people live around the world and draw their paychecks from New York -- still the nation's financial capital -- Park lives the reverse: His day job is with the Poetry Foundation in Chicago, which he visits several times a month. The Believer, which he co-edits, is based in San Francisco.
A literary celebrity in an old-school way, Gessen is well enough known in the New York media world -- he broke into the New York Review of Books while still in his 20s -- that his novel went through the entire cycle of hype and backlash before publication. The media blog Gawker has been rather unhealthily obsessed with him and his co-conspirator, novelist Benjamin Kunkel, describing Gessen as having "the soulful looks of a Greenwich Village bohemian and the oh-so-erotic arrogance of a Russian-Jewish intellectual." The site chronicles his love life as though he were George Clooney, not a largely untested writer who spends most of his days hunched over a computer.
Inside the literary media swirl these days, the books can seem beside the point. Does literature retain any of that old prestige? Rich, for his part, takes a pragmatic approach.
"I think there are more people engaged with literature than there ever have been," he said. "When people think about the golden age of the novel in the 19th century, literacy rates were absurdly low. There wasn't electricity to read by: People weren't just sitting around reading all day then either."
Rich may be living a charmed life in a sense: Despite some post-college drift, he managed to intern at the New York Review of Books, live in San Francisco and write a book on the city's noir cinema, all before his 25th birthday. His time at the Paris Review, which he joined in June 2005, has coincided with a renaissance of the quarterly under editor Philip Gourevitch, with circulation now at 16,000, exceeding its early '60s apogee. He's come by his optimism honestly.
Is it becoming more difficult, with the incredible cost of living, to live the life of the mind? "I don't really know what it means to live the life of the mind," Rich said."It's becoming a lot more difficult to live in Manhattan. The things that were great about New York are still here, they're just in different places."
Finding his own voice
For a sense of a spell that's broken, talk to Ed Park, whose novel comes out at the end of May. With his rumpled-preppy dress and pointy glasses, Park, sitting at an eatery near his West 95th Street apartment, could be one of the geek-chic protagonists in Adrian Tomine's "Optic Nerve" comic. Inspired more by the hip taste and fanboy ethos of the alternative press than the intellectually striving postwar "little magazine," he worships Philip K. Dick instead of Philip Rahv.
In the years after he started at the Village Voice in 1995 -- first as a copy editor -- he thrived on the paper's cerebral and politically progressive tone. But as he rose through the ranks over a decade, eventually heading the Voice Literary Supplement, things turned dour.
"Whatever romantic view I had of what I was doing," he said of the period around '05, "I started to see it was all driven by money and profit."
"Personal Days," much of which he wrote right before and after being fired by the paper's new owners, New Times Media, in 2006, looks at the curdling of that young writer's dream: We see the hyper-intellectual workplace of the Voice -- never identified as such -- with all its literary or political idealism burned off. With its gossip and minutiae, elevator flirtations, Orwellian e-mails and looming layoffs, it could be the Dunder-Mifflin paper mill of television's "The Office" -- the Village as Scranton, Penn.
"I never say what they do," he said of the office's employees. "I wanted it to stay focused on the universal workplace environment and interactions. Everybody knows what an office is like."
But Park also burns, in his gently obsessive and sometimes tongue-tied way, with a bit of Rich's optimism. In 2003, as things were going from bad to worse at the Voice, he and some of the McSweeney's crew started the Believer, an impassioned and sometimes precious magazine that, with its retro typefaces and eccentric illustrations, seemed to revel self-consciously in its identity as printed matter.
"It was an interesting year to launch a print magazine," Park said. "It's really something you can't get on the Web. The beauty of each issue isn't simply cosmetic -- a 'cool design'; the attractiveness also has to do with a marriage of form and function."
Under the radar