THE THIEVES OF MANHATTAN by Adam Langer

Book Quote:

“Let’s say you had an opportunity to get your work in front of more people than you ever thought you’d reach, a chance to get more money than you thought you could ever get, but you had to compromise everything you thought you believed in. Would you do it?”

Book Review:

Review by Poornima Apte (AUG 26, 2010)

Struggling writer and coffee barista, Ian Minot, is frustrated and depressed. For one thing, he just can’t seem to write the kind of stories that will get the publishing world’s attention. After all, Ian knows, his life isn’t as glamorous as his Romanian’s girlfriend’s Anya Petrescu, whose travails under Ceausescu, has landed her an attractive publishing contract. In a snide reference to the New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 list, Ian points out that “Anya had recently been named one of American Review’s ‘31 Most Promising Writers Under 31.’ This year, I was too old to qualify,” he adds.

In fact, Anya’s future is on such a meteoric track that Ian is sure she will soon be dating celebrity authors like Gary Shteyngart or Malcolm Gladwell—not some wannabe like Ian Minot. Turns out that Anya does indeed leave Ian but she does so for another kind of celebrity author—Blade Markham. Markham’s memoir, Blade—a hard-hitting story about life in a gang and on drugs, has been selling like hotcakes especially after it won the endorsement of a famous talk show host (an Oprah-like celebrity).

Ian of course can’t stand Blade—he knows his success is not well-deserved, he believes Blade is all fake (he turns out to be) and Blade’s success just serves to reinforce the notion that success in publishing is not always related to talent alone. So one day, when a coffee bar regular whom Ian merely refers to as “The Confident Man” shows up with a copy of Blade tucked under his arm, Ian just loses it and kicks the guy out along with his book.

But Confident Man has some plans—and ideas—of his own. Ian’s violent hatred of Blade is just the fuel that Confident Man, aka Jed Roth, is looking for. He presents Ian with a scheme: take a book that Jed has written, make it Ian’s own, get it published (Jed, who has worked in the publishing industry will help with contacts), then reveal it’s a fake. This “twist,” Jed assures Ian, will get the book even more publicity—so much of it that eventually Ian will be able to get his own stories published without much fuss or delay. As crazy as the idea sounds, Ian is roped in. After all, he doesn’t have much to lose. And Jed Roth, who would like nothing better than to rub the publishing industry’s nose in its own filth (for many reasons of his own) has much to gain.

So what follows, is an amazingly tight caper that involves some wild goose chases and a plot that twists and turns to reveal the true color of people and situations as we go along.

Adam Langer’s work has always been clever and on the cutting edge and this one is no exception. For anyone following contemporary literature closely there are plenty of references sure to tickle the funny bone. Langer has even coined a special language centered on these literary references. For example, “Franzens” stand for a particular kind of eyeglasses favored by the author Jonathan Franzen. Author Michael Chabon’s hair is all the rage—anybody who has a wild mane of hair has a “chabon.” References to boxed reviews in Publisher’s Weekly and appearances on Fresh Air with Terry Gross also abound, and all these elements together serve as a delicious lampooning of the publishing industry as a whole.

There are some places when you can get tired of these little bits of cleverness—as in when Langer writes out Anya’s Romanian accent in italics. “She was sure that eff’ryone would hett eet, that refyooers would reep eet to shreds and call her a tellentliss leetle feek.” This is really funny at first but gets annoying towards the end after its novelty wears out.

What really elevates The Thieves of Manhattan is that it is also a novel about kindness and authenticity. It is a wonderfully paced and well-edited novel—a taut page-turner.

“Writing a book can be a profoundly optimistic act; expecting someone to read, buy, and publish it is always a phenomenally presumptuous one. Why would a marketing department put money behind anything you wrote? Why would someone you didn’t know spend twenty-five dollars to read your stories of small people leading small lives?” Jed Roth once asks of Ian. Langer’s new book shows us why. Despite all its clever contrivances, Thieves never loses its focus and in the end is a good dose of vibrant old-fashioned storytelling.

Not only is The Thieves of Manhattan a funny and wild caper, it’s also a touching story about Ian Minot—a small person leading a small life. Until of course, something very big happens to him.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 41  readers
PUBLISHER: Spiegel & Grau (July 13, 2010)
REVIEWER: Poornima Apte
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Adam Langer
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

Another writer things about a short cut to money:

and more satire on the publishing business:

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Bibliography:


August 26, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Humorous, Literary, New York City, Thriller/Spy/Caper

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