Friday, July 9, 2010

It's the Real Thing! It's a Total Act! It's Langer's The Thieves of Manhattan

Adam Langer’s new novel, The Thieves of Manhattan, opens with struggling writer Ian Minot working in a coffee shop, and fuming that a customer is reading Blade Markham’s book, Blade by Blade. It’s the most ridiculous memoir ever, a combination gangster-AWOL soldier-prison story that makes A Million Little Pieces look like Katherine Graham’s Personal History.

Ian’s got a girlfriend Anya, a Romanian short story writer, who’s been invited to read at the KGB’s Literal Stimulation, the edgy, acclaimed reading series sponsored by The Stimulator. She’s in the sights of literary luminaries, but she also might be in the sights of Blade Markham. Ian doesn’t have much, but whatever he does have seems on shakey ground. Then there’s Faye, his fellow employee, an artist who turns forged paintings into artwork in their own right. Is this just friendship or something more?

But it’s right from the epigraph, Milli Vanilli’s Girl You Know it’s True, ” that you know this isn’t a simple tale of a young innocent caught between two women, or a first novelist overcoming the villains of publishing or perhaps being undone by fame. No, the twists and turns beckon, like when you hear the screams of the folks ahead of you when they take their first drop on a rollercoaster. No, more confusing than a rollercoaster, maybe a tilt-a-whirl.

The man reading the book turns out to be Jed Roth, another failed writer who also has a beef with Blade. In fact, he lost his job at Merrill Books when he refused to publish it. But Jed has a scheme that might just get the book published, and that involves Ian. The novel, The Thief of Manhattan, involves a most outrageous caper involving a stolen manuscript, that may or may not be, like much of the rest of this novel, fake. And Jed is going to ask Ian to pass off this incredibly outrageous novel as…a memoir.

Only what if everything that seems true is false, and everything that is false, is actual. If everyone thinks something is true, is it?

Langer does a great job juggling a crazed plot that is as suspenseful as all get out, while packed with hilarious asides. One of the conceipts of the novel within the novelis that the folks speak in a literary speak, so that, for example, stylish eyeglasses are “franzens” and to “lish” is to “savagely edit a manuscript.” I almost palahniuked myself when Blade Marhkham’s editor claimed to do just that after reading a particularly nasty prison scene in the memoir.

I’m not really reviewing the book here; I’m hoping that other more literate folks than I get a kick out this. Let me just say I had a great time with The Thieves of Manhattan. It had everything I expect in a Langer novel, only magnified by a funhouse mirror. The literary and pop cultural references, some of which hit you like a hammer and others which need some detection skills, are a delight. All that and it works as a thriller too.

It’s just great, yo.
Here's Langer's Q&A in the Wall Street Journal.

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