Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Thieves of Manhattan

I enjoyed and hated this book, pretty much simultaneously. On the one hand, it reads like a decent adventure story. Each chapter ends with a little bit of cliffhanger which makes you want to read more. It also is an interesting piece of metafiction. This is good and bad. On the one hand, it is interesting. On the other....

The book is about a writer by the name of Ian Minot. Young guy, can't catch a break and get anything of his published. He works as a barista in New York City and dates a Romanian girl by the name of Anya who has written a memoir of her life in Romania and her trials as an orphan in the United States. Anya is asked to do a reading at a spot known for finding breakout authors. Sure enough, Anya's reading is a hit and her memoirs are sold to a publisher.

At a publishing party, they run into Blade Markham, a former gang member turned bestselling memoir writer. Blade and Ian get into a fight, Anya falls for Blade and Ian is left more depressed than ever.

A fellow turns up at Ian's coffee shop with a copy of Markham's book. Ian hurls the book down the street which results in him being fired from his job. The man with the book (known up to this point as The Confident Man (a play on confidence man, no doubt), is impressed with Ian's hatred of Markham. Turns out, the fellow, named Jed Roth, was a former editor. Roth's assistant went over his head to get Markham's book published and rather than work on it with the assistant, Roth quit. He has a plan for revenge.

Roth wrote a novel many years before called The Thief of Manhattan. It is about a writer who visits this unique library run by a fellow called "The Hooligan Librarian". Hooligan has been stealing rare books from this library and selling them to a shady appraiser for whom he used to work as a research assistant in grad school when she was part of the school's faculty. The narrator of the book discovers this when an attractive redhead wants to look at a book on display and Hooligan doesn't let her. Roth's narrator breaks into the library and takes the book to give to the redhead. Hooligan finds out, burns down the library, and he and the appraiser try to find Roth's narrator. The narrator buries the book, gets into a shootout with the bad guys and wins. Finds the girl and lives happily ever after.

Roth's novel didn't get published. He wants Ian to try and pass it off as a memoir now in order to get it published. They get the firm who Roth worked for to publish it, it is renamed The Thieves of Manhattan, and Ian becomes popular. The plan is to then expose the memoir as novel to embarrass the publishing firm.

It turns out that the memoir is not a novel but a memoir. The Hooligan and his boss begin to hunt down Ian. As he is being chased, Ian starts to record what's happening to him as a memoir. So we end up with a novel titled Theives of Manhattan, subtitled a novel a memoir, which is about a writer who publishes a book called Theives of Manhattan, passing it off as a memoir instead of a novel when it is really a memoir....sort of.

So it's exciting and sort of clever in its self-referential treatment. What didn't I like? Well, some more of the self-referential stuff. When Roth writes his T of M, he uses made up words that are authors or character names that are connected to the objects whose names he are using to represent said objects. We don't know that, though, and as we're reading Langer's T of M, which is told by Ian, we come across these same references. The first I recall is Ian saying someone has a chabon of hair. Now, when I read it, being a huge fan of Michael Chabon, I immediately pictured someone who had his hair. My reaction, though, was "Huh, I didn't know chabon was an actual word". Then people start drinking fitzgeralds. Not capitalized. How strange. Drinks with names are usually capitalized. You don't see people drinking bloody mary's or long island iced tea. Then folks start wearing gatsbys and golightlys. When someone lit up a vonnegut, I really got irritated. Finally, when we get to Roth's character, we find that Roth likes to do that and that his T of M even has a glossary for these terms. Turns out, so does Langer's T of M. I thought it was a stupid mechanism and could not see the point outside of advertising Langer's literary background.

There's more self-reference. Ian says he will dedicate his real memoir to Joseph, his former boss who ends up helping him out. Langer's book is dedicated "to J. for reasons that should become somewhat clearer sometime after page 195" which of course is the page where Ian declares his dedication intent to Joseph.

At some point it all stopped being clever and just started bothering me. I also really disliked how the book wrapped up. The ending was goofy and far-fetched.

The book also reminded me of a novel I read in 2009 about the publishing industry, How I Became a Famous Novelist. I'd call it a tossup as to which I liked more. I remember Hely's book being funnier but Langer's is more captivating. Neither, though, are something I would particularly recommend.

No comments: