The Thieves of Manhattanby Adam Langer
The famously false memoirs of James Frey may be yesterday’s news, but as this funny riff reminds us, literary fakes are as old as literature itself. Ian Minot is an aspiring writer who labors over short stories that seem destined to remain unread. His beautiful Romanian girlfriend, Anya Petrescu, finds success more easily—and leaves Ian for Blade Markham, a bloviating ex-gangbanger whose “so-called memoir” is a best-seller. When Ian is approached by ex-editor Jed Roth, who wants Ian to publish Jed’s pulpy tale of book theft and murder as a memoir, then renounce it, it’s a chance for both of them to get revenge: Jed on his former employer, and Ian on the world. Although Langer may be too cute for some (he employs made-up slang in which a penis is a portnoy), he does an engaging job with the hall-of-mirrors plot. And if readers can predict that the book they’re reading is the one that Ian ends up writing, they’ll never guess the ending. Just when you want a surprising twist, Langer delivers several.
“As a lampoon of the modern book industry, The Thieves of Manhattan is near perfection. With its vicious satire of the culture of celebrity and the loss of principles in the A Million Little Pieces scandal, it makes an exciting read that will put a dark smile on the face of anyone discouraged by the downward spiral of literature.”—The Daily Beast
“Hysterically funny… Langer has written an immensely clever novel, by turns tenderhearted and satirical—an affecting, altogether plausible portrait of one writer’s passage through good times and bad. Yes, the book is a send-up of an industry obsessed with the bottom line and embarrassingly susceptible to James Frey’s snake oil charms. Yes, Langer’s critique is accurate and amusing. But The Thieves of Manhattan is finally a marvelous yarn, a glorious paean to good books and to those who shepherd them into the world, a tale of redemption as cheering as Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys.”—The Chicago Tribune
“The Thieves of Manhattan may be to publishing what Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 was to the military.”—Associated Press
“What drives Langer’s black-humored dystopia is his formidable blend of righteous cynicism, screwball noir and socially observant satire. It’s an easily believable netherworld teeming with shit-talking agents and corrupted publishers continually turning bad publicity into profit…Langer leaves you with some serious philosophizing on the increasing interchangeability of concepts like truth and fiction in a media-blitz age.”—Time Out New York
“[An] amusing new novel, a satiric barb aimed directly at the literary world and those who seek to subvert it for fame, money, and—please God—a shot at Oprah…[Langer’s] references are clever, snarky, and right on target.”—The Miami Herald
“Langer serves the literary world its own head on a platter, most notably the phonies and the fakers…[A] timely satire…a light and fast read, with short chapters and plot twists every couple of pages.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“The Thieves of Manhattan arrives with a twinkle and a smirk, and from the very start the reader knows the game is on…There is enough puzzlement here to occupy a book club from first sip to dessert.”—Chicago Sun-Times
“If you want to feel somewhat literary and very hip, try jumping on the speedy ride that is The Thieves of Manhattan. Novelist Adam Langer delivers plenty of cool in this satire of the New York literary scene in which aspiring writer Ian Minot is tempted – after observing the unearned success of others – into taking part in a literary scam. The question, however, becomes: Who is really scamming whom?”—Christian Science Monitor
“How many novels begin with a Milli Vanilli quote? In the case of the funny and sharp Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer, the lyric ‘Girl you know it’s true’ is particularly apt, as this clever tale blurs fact and fiction to riotous effect.”—Very Short List
“As clever a quick read as you can ever ask for. His character Ian is hilariously hapless and self-deprecating. The book crackles with humor and insight into not only publishing corruption, but also the history of modern literature.”—Edge
“Love and art merge with cheerful cynicism in Langer’s madcap skewering of New York’s personality-mad publishing industry.” —Vogue
“An über-hip caper…Part Bright Lights, Big City, part The Grifters, this delicious satire of the literary world is peppered with slang so trendy a glossary is included.”—Publishers Weekly (Starred review)
“A dizzyingly inventive comic thriller that is at once a sardonic take on the hypocrisies of the publishing world and an exploration of the sometimes fluid boundaries between the real and the imaginative in literature. Smart, original, and highly recommended.”—Library Journal
“A dizzyingly clever novel…Lots of fun.”—Kirkus Reviews
“The famously false memoirs of James Frey may be yesterday’s news, but as this funny riff reminds us, literary fakes are as old as literature itself…Just when you want a surprising twist, Langer delivers several. The truth is, he’s got a wild imagination.”—Booklist
“The Thieves of Manhattan is a sly and cutting riff on the book-publishing world that is quite funny unless you happen to be an author, in which case the novel will make you consider a more sensible profession—like being a rodeo clown, for example, or a crab-fisherman in the Bering Sea.”—Carl Hiaasen
“Takes us to places that fiction dares not tread. Bold brave worrying work from a wonderful wunderkind!”—Laura Albert AKA JT LeRoy, author of Sarah and The Heart is Deceitful Beyond All Things
“I loved this book—it’s both laugh-out-loud funny and satisfyingly snarky about the state of publishing these days. Both writers and readers should find this cautionary tale a delight to read.”—Nancy Pearl, author of Book Lust
“Adam Langer is that rare combination of a writer. He has a sharp eye to details and explores human relations with keen insight and wry humor, and at the same time shows profound compassion to our fragile existences and longings. The Thieves of Manhattan flashes with powerful observations about the world of publishing and is a triumph on every level, an absorbing story throbbing with energy and intellect.”—Elif Shafak, author of Forty Rules of Love
“It's a rare literary novel that can stand up to the rigors of six hours sandwiched in coach between a shrieking newborn and a gentleman hacking up at least one of his lungs. The Thieves of Manhattan, Adam Langer's latest wise and wonderful romp, did the trick splendidly. So splendidly, in fact, that I'd recommend it even to those who plan to travel no farther than their armchairs...”—Ayelet Waldman, author of Bad Mother and Red Hook Road
“A page-turning thriller, a lacerating lampoon of the literary life, and a powerful tribute to the art and craft of fakery. Adam Langer’s caper of con artists, thug librarians, and fraudulent memoirs moves into that area of truth to which all writers aspire.”—Clifford Irving, author of The Autobiography of Howard Hughes and The Hoax
“Adam Langer’s Thieves of Manhattan is a gleeful addition to the caper canon, a richly twisted narrative that jauntily skewers the publishing business with its bizarre assortment of characters—eccentric, egomaniacal agents, sell-out publishers, success-crazed (illiterate) authors, and television book clubs. Along its merry way, it also explores the all important (and seemingly nonexistent) distinction between fake memoirs and real novels.”—Nicholas Meyer, author of The Seven Percent Solution and The West End Horror, Academy Award-nominated screenwriter and director of The Human Stain, Star Trek II & IV, and Time After Time.
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Read an Excerpt
The Thieves of ManhattanA Novel
By Adam Langer
Spiegel & GrauCopyright © 2010 Adam Langer
All right reserved.
Girl, you know it’s true . . .
THE CONFIDENT MAN
To tell you the truth, I’d have noticed the guy even if Faye hadn’t pointed him out to me. He was slicker than the usual Morningside Coffee crowd—off-white linen suit, black silk shirt buttoned to the throat, Jonathan Franzen–style designer glasses—but what made me stop wiping tables and look just a bit longer was the fact that he was reading a copy of Blade by Blade. That autumn, it seemed as though Blade Markham’s book was everywhere—every subway station corridor had posters with that canary yellow book cover on them; every bookstore window displayed a cardboard cutout of a glowering Blade sporting a nine o’clock shadow; half the suckers who sat next to me on the bus were reading that so-called memoir.
Faye, strands of red hair dangling past her olive green eyes from under her Morningside Coffee visor, was humming “Dust in the Wind” and absentmindedly drawing a sketch of the guy on her notepad. She’d written “Confident Man” underneath it. That’s how the name stuck with me. Meanwhile, bitter, gossipy Joseph, all 315 pounds of him, hunched over the counter, going over lines for an audition, vainly hoping that some casting director wanted a guy his size with white-boy dreadlocks, flip-flops, and a goatee. It had been another slow night, and now the Confident Man was the only customer left in the shop.
“Too bad his taste in books doesn’t match his taste in clothes,” Faye said to me. She smiled and returned to her sketch.
Faye Curry was probably already trying to flirt with me then, but I had a girl, Anya Petrescu. Just about everything Faye said tended to go right past me anyway. Artsy and bookish guys always lurked at the counter and chatted her up because she had a droll wit and liked to be distracted when she was working, but she was way too subtle for me. She had the looks and smarts I tended to notice only after the fact, usually after the woman in question had gotten engaged to someone else or had already left town or had decided she was done with men. Back then, with her torn jeans, baseball caps, vintage concert shirts, and paint-spattered boots, I wasn’t sure if she was into guys anyway. So that night I wasn’t focusing on the fact that she was grinning at me instead of scowling, that she was wearing perfume or maybe using new shampoo. That night, I was more interested in the book the Confident Man was reading.
“Bogus pile of crap,” I muttered. I didn’t realize I’d said it out loud. But Joseph shot me a glance and Faye smiled at me again as if both of them had heard. I looked back down and went on wiping the tables, putting the chairs up, trying to stop thinking about that book and Blade Markham.
Just the night before, during yet another bout of writer’s block and insomnia, I’d been flipping channels when I stumbled on Markham blowing hard on a rebroadcast of Pam Layne’s daytime talk show. There the guy was, hawking his memoir on the biggest book show going, yammering about his heroin addiction and the time he spent with the Crips and the month he went AWOL during the first Gulf War and his conversion to Buddhism and whatever else he’d made up and sold to Merrill Books—a half million bucks for the North American rights alone. I didn’t believe a word of it, but Layne’s studio audience couldn’t get enough, gasping and clapping and laughing as Markham spouted one lie after another. All the while, Pam Layne kept up her credulous questions, using street slang that must have been written on cue cards by whichever one of her assistants had actually read the book:
“Don’t you worry that some of these men you mention in your book, some of these hustlas, might try to put a cap in yo’ ass?” she asked Blade. “That they might try to take yo’ ass out?”
“Naw, that ain’t too likely,” Blade told Pam. “You know, sistuh, the punks I wrote about in my book, they all dead, yo.”
Up there on that TV talk show set, Blade was acting like some old-school hip-hopper, throwing his arms out, crossing them over his chest, flashing made-up gang signs, ending all his sentences with “yo,” even though he was probably just some rich boy from Maplewood, New Jersey, whose real name was Blaine Markowitz—that’s what Anya and I used to joke anyway. Everything about Blade Markham seemed like some kind of lie—his words, his shabby outfit that he’d probably planned out a week in advance, even the cross he wore around his neck.
“It ain’t a cross for Christ; it’s a T for Truth, yo,” he told Pam Layne. That’s when I flipped off the TV, went back to bed in my clothes, and tried in vain to think of a story to write, tried in vain to get some sleep.
Now here in the coffee shop was the Confident Man, one more Blade Markham fan than I could stand. So when I went over to his table and told him we were closing and that he had to scram, I might have sounded harsher than I intended. Faye bust out laughing, and Joseph, who seemed always to be looking for just the right time to can me, flashed a “one more outburst and you’re gone” glare.
The Confident Man dog-eared a page of his book, put on his black cashmere gogol, belted it, went over to the tip jar, and stuffed in a twenty-dollar bill, which just about doubled our tips for the night. He walked out onto Broadway without saying a word.
“Think that guy craves you,” Faye said, raising one eyebrow. Joseph snickered—jokes at my expense always cracked him up. I finished cleaning, collected my share of the tips from Joseph, said sayonara to Faye, and headed down to the KGB Bar to meet Anya. By the time I got there, I was still stewing about Blade by Blade, but I had all but forgotten the Confident Man.
Excerpted from The Thieves of Manhattan by Adam Langer Copyright © 2010 by Adam Langer. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Born and raised in Chicago, Adam Langer is the author of the novels Ellington Boulevard, Crossing California,and The Washington Story. He lives in New York City.
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