The Thieves of Manhattan, Adam Langer doles out "thanks to all the fake memoirists, fictional poets, literary forgers, and hoaxers who have provided such great inspiration." That's funny because it's true — this novel IS an inspired piece of fiction. It's a skewering of the publishing industry. It's an adventure tale, complete with a treasure hunt. And it's a treasure trove of inside jokes for literary geeks (Philip Roth signs a book to a smarmy literary agent: To Geoffrey, a true human stain...Cigarettes are called "vonneguts"...Trendy glasses are called "franzens".)
Ian Minot is a Manhattan coffee slinger, trying desperately to publish his short stories before the dregs of his inheritance run out. His girlfriend, Anya, has become a rising star, earning a deal to publish a book of short stories about her childhood in Romania. (Would she have gotten a deal if she wasn't from somewhere exotic?) When Ian, desperate for publishing fame, enters into a scheme to publish a fake memoir with a former book editor looking for revenge on an industry he believes has lost its soul, things go a bit awry. The line blurs between real life and fiction. And Ian finds himself running for his life.
The James Frey fiasco shines through clear as day (two chapters are even titled "Bright, Shiny Morning" and "A Million Little Pieces") as the go-point for this book. But with all the great jokes (see below for another), some hilarious caricatures, like an ebonics-spouting fella named Blade who becomes the toast of the literary world when he publishes a memoir about his gangsta life, and with the morph into adventure novel as the rubber meets the road on Ian's fake memoir plot, the novel moves way beyond what could have been a too-simple 250-page insult to Frey and other fakers.
At times you feel like Langer himself is angry or disillusioned, that he has his own axe to grind. At one point, he writes: "In the press, these hoaxes were viewed mostly as symptoms of a declining industry struggling for relevance and attention and a society of declining morals." More often, though, you get the sense he's just being funny — and it's pretty clear he had a blast writing this book.
For anyone interested in how the publishing industry works (or doesn't), and who enjoys a good laugh at its expense, this is a must. It's a slim little book, written specifically for literary nerds. And it's a whole lotta fun!
Another literary joke: Langer setting the scene at a party: "There was a trio of drunk writers, all named Jonathan, each of whom was complaining that the Times critic Michiko Kakutani had written that she'd like their earlier books better."