Satiric look at publishing offers high-brow humor

Kate Ergenbright

“A Million Little Pieces” author James Frey made headlines a few years ago for falsifying portions of his memoir, a scandal that culminated in a public confrontation with Oprah Winfrey. However, the publishing industry has seen its fair share of this type of literary scandal. In “The Thieves of Manhattan,” author Adam Langer pokes fun at this history and the changing landscape of the publishing industry.

“The Thieves of Manhattan” satirizes the current trend of publishing books written by politicians and celebrities famous for anything but their writing and storytelling skills. Langer, a former editor of the now-defunct Book Magazine and author of three other novels, focuses his novel on the Frey-like experience of aspiring writer Ian.

Ian embodied the aspiring-writer stereotype: living in New York City, working at a coffee shop and receiving rejection letters from each publishing house he sent his work to. But after meeting Jed, a jaded former editor, Ian finds himself in the midst of a literary scam when the two bond over their hatred for Blade Markham, a thug-turned-best-selling-author whose memoir, Ian and Jed believe, is full of lies.

Filled with jealousy, Jed convinces Ian to pass off a fictional novel as his memoir and, once the book becomes a hit, to reveal that they lied to embarrass the publishing industry and gain notoriety. But, of course, not everything goes according to plan.

“The Thieves of Manhattan” is full of literary references and paints a comedic, and at times bleak, portrait of the publishing world. But I’m uncertain of its mass appeal to people who aren’t literary agents or aspiring writers.

Langer uses his own vocabulary, substituting words such as “money” for “daisies,” which is a reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” Although he does provide a glossary of terms in the back of the book, it’s annoying to have to stop reading to look up Langer’s version of a simple noun or verb. This aspect of the novel detracts from the enjoyment of reading and can be confusing to many people who may not have read as many of the classics as Langer makes readers aware that he has.

Overall, I’d say that “The Thieves of Manhattan” is a solid satire for industry types, but to the average reader uninterested in the underhanded aspects of the publishing industry, this book lacks charm.

Grade: B