three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
49-Nov-Dec-2010
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0

A-The Thieves of ManhattanIn his fourth novel, Adam Langer (Crossing California, 1984) examines honesty in the publishing world. He is also the author of a memoir about his father, a playwright, and a former editor of Book Magazine.

The Story: Aspiring writer Ian Minot is a failure. Originally from the Midwest, he toils as a barista in New York, lives on a paltry inheritance, and clings bitterly to his dream of becoming a writer. But even he admits his short stories are too "small." Fueling his jealousy, Ian's beautiful, fickle Romanian girlfriend is about to land a major contract for her stories, and Blade Markham, the author of a best-selling but fraudulent memoir, won't leave him alone. Then Ian crosses paths with Jed Roth, another failed writer who has a plan to get them published, expose the industry, and make them rich. And Ian, never one to oppose a scheme, signs on.
Spiegel & Grau. 259 pages. $15. ISBN: 9781400068913

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"Although Langer's frequent allusions to the arcana and grandiose personalities of book publishing will escape some readers, his vaguely antique complaints about readers' pitiable, lowbrow tastes will come through loud and clear. ... 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." Kirk Davis Swinehart

Dallas Morning News 4 of 5 Stars
"Read as a novel that incorporates real people (authors, editors, literary agents) in real-life situations but contains obvious fictions, The Thieves of Manhattan is a first-rate satire. Read as a novel that grapples with the precarious boundaries between real-life fiction and fake-life memoir, [it] is an intellectual powerhouse, with some laugh-out-loud passages mixed in." Steve Weinberg

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Read The Thieves of Manhattan once, and it's a wild ride through a ripping yarn. Read it twice, and you'll discover that Langer, unlike his unworldly protagonist, is a subtly cunning foreshadower of plot and theme." Ella Taylor

New Yorker 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Here a highsmith is a train and a hemingway a sentence, a gogol is an overcoat and a golightly a cocktail dress; a glossary in the back instructs readers in the smirking insider language. Still, until the fake memoir turns real, collapsing the puff into a merely cartoonish adventure, this is a knowing yarn likely to elicit cheshires (as in cat)."

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Adam Langer serves the literary world its own head on a platter, most notably the phonies and the fakers. ... The novel sometimes sags under the weight of its own cleverness, including Langer's glossary of made-up nouns and verbs based mostly on real-life literary people." John McNally

Miami Herald 2.5 of 5 Stars
"Langer hilariously reshapes language to reflect Ian's obsession with literature (a shot of whiskey is a faulkner, while a gin rickey is a fitzgerald; a humbert is a perv and so on). ... Instead of winding up a smarty-pants little gem, Thieves tries to woo us with preposterous action." Connie Ogle

Critical Summary

"Crime caper meets metafictional satire of the publishing industry in this mischievous novel," says the New Yorker about this postmodern work, which skewers the publishing industry as it examines the meaning of truth and fraud. Snarky, clever, and preposterous, yet somehow credible (James Frey comes to mind), The Thieves of Manhattan kept critics on their toes. Yet while most critics enjoyed (or at least "got") Langer's name-dropping and insider vocabulary (a "poppins" is an umbrella, "franzens" are glasses, etc.), some thought his references were over-the-top. The ending also confounded a few reviewers who otherwise praised Langer's storytelling skill. Although entertaining and clever in its own right, the novel may best be appreciated by readers familiar with the tropes of the publishing world.