The Thieves of Manhattan book review

Adam Langer’s 2008 novel Ellington Boulevard used acidic humour and social commentary to frame the dehumanising consequences of urban gentrification

Book review, Time In
Adam Langer

4/5
Spiegel and Grau

Adam Langer’s 2008 novel Ellington Boulevard used acidic humour and social commentary to frame the dehumanising consequences of urban gentrification. This new novel puts forth a more fantastical (but equally nightmarish) vision of cultural entropy.

Langer vividly imagines an ethically degraded publishing world post-Million Little Pieces that’s ‘more concerned with its own survival than its legacy’. On the fringes of this fallen industry is Ian Minot, a coffee jerk at a Starbucks knock-off and a rejected writer. By happenstance he meets tea-swilling ex-editor Jed Roth, who has just quit publishing giant Merrill Books in protest after it embraced a dubious memoir by Vanilla Ice-meets-James Frey faux gangsta Blade Markham.

In retaliation, the business-savvy Roth recruits the naive Minot to collaborate on a scam. Minot will flesh out Roth’s idea of a cockamamie heist involving gun-toting librarians and a stolen copy of the original Tale of Genji. They will then sell this bunk to gullible super-agent Geoff Olden (and later Merrill) as a memoir and finally admit it was all a hoax. Roth will take a percentage of the book’s sales, while Minot’s instant infamy will help sell his dull short stories.

What drives Langer’s black-humoured dystopia is his blend of righteous cynicism, screwball noir and socially observant satire. It’s an easily believable netherworld teeming with s***-talking agents and corrupted publishers. And although the novel’s surreal denouement becomes too clever for its own good, Langer leaves you with some serious philosophising on the increasing interchangeability of concepts such as truth and fiction in a media-blitz age.

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