Friday, July 30, 2010

How You Tell It (New Slang)

The Thieves of Manhattan: A Novel

If by chance you are an aspiring writer this book's view of the publishing world might really bum you out. When a book is labeled as 'literary' it seems a somewhat natural response to brace for possible pretentiousness. Books about books can indeed be redundant and often miss the mark ; writer protagonists face a daunting task, because referencing other works may only remind readers of those works, thereby drawing attention to an authors inferiority. This is not the case with The Thieves of Manhattan. Adam Langer's approach shows his literary chops in a playful way that grows more endearing as the novel progresses. He does this by referencing books through descriptive slang - rather than in some long dramatic monologue by an annoyingly well-read character. For example ; A well groomed mustache is a Steinbeck. A pervert is a Humbert. A mischievous grin, a Cheshire. To puke, is to Palahniuk. All of these references may seem like s lot to remember.( there is a glossary in the back for those you might miss) However, much like the use of Nadsat in A Clockwork Orange Langer's slang is something I picked up quickly and really grew to appreciate.

As mentioned above Langer's protagonist, Ian Minot, is a writer. Ian is struggling to sell his short stories. Rejection letters note that his characters are small and quiet people who don't do enough, nothing is a stake for them. The success of both Blade Markham - a supposed former gang member and drug addict, and Ian's Romanian girlfriend Anya, only makes things worse. Blade's memoir is a mega-hit and Ian can't seem to escape his gangsta grill on billboards and TV. Anya is a short story writer like Ian, yet her past in Bucharest is both beautiful and heart-breaking. Her stories and her looks have made her a darling in the eyes of potential agents and publishers. This is where " The Confident Man " enters the story. The man is a regular at the coffee shop where Ian works. He comes in every day and sits down to read his copy of Blade By Blade. This naturally frustrates a resentful Ian. Shortly after being dumped by Anya, and verbally threatened by Blade, Ian blows up. When the confident man walks in Ian snatches the book away and hurls it out the door. Ian is fired on the spot and leaves fuming. The confident man is waiting down the street. It turns out that he was testing Ian. The man whose name is actually Jed Roth has a plan, but he needs Ian in order to make it work. Roth explains that he too detests Blade Markham's book, and even left his job as an editor over it's publication.

Roth's scheme for revenge is simple. Write a fake memoir ala James Frey, sell it to publishers as fact. Then when the time is right ( after they've cashed the checks ) reveal to the public that the book is all lies. This will crush the publishers reputation, but still leave Ian as a known entity. Having read Ian's stories before as unpublished submissions, Roth knows they won't sell. Unless of course people know his name. The Thieves of Manhattan is the book the two create together. The plot involves an authentic first edition of The Tale of Genji, a library fire, a beautiful stranger, a thieving librarian, a crooked antiques dealer, and of course the hero, Ian who supposedly lived it all. Like any good adventure novel it also includes chases, gunfights, and true love.

This is all setup for a face-paced story that shares some qualities with the pulpy works Ian's 'memoir' evokes. The chapters are short and often end on cliffhangers or Scheherazades, as Langer calls them. It will keep you reading as fast as any good thriller can. ( I finished it in less than 24 hours ) The humor is solid as well. There are very few books that have consistently made me laugh. Humor is a hard thing to nail in writing, at most funny fiction gets a few smirks and chuckles from me. While I wasn't physically laughing at Thieves I found myself smiling frequently which is probably the best a reader has the right to hope for.

I really enjoyed this book, and recommend it to anyone and everyone who enjoys reading. 259 pages isn't asking much from the reader. Without question The Thieves of Manhattan is worth the day or two it takes to finish. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can give a book which has been dubbed 'literary' is that it made me want to read the books it referenced. Most notable of those which I haven't yet read but now want to is Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep which is alluded to in Langer's term for gun, Canino. Initially I tried winning this book through goodreads. I didn't win but was still siked when I saw it at the library the next day. It's the most entertaining novel I've read in a while, and the best of the summer so far.

1 comment:

  1. Cool! I am excited to read this. I love the Pukelahniuk and Steinstache speak. I prefer to conjoin my words, but appreciate the funny references. I hope there is a term in the book for John Irving.