Crosswords And Con Men Meet In 'Manhattan' Adam Langer's enigmatic new novel, The Thieves Of Manhattan, twists and turns like a Mobius strip. The author speaks with Liane Hansen about his myriad influences, his love of puzzles, and how his novel simultaneously skews and celebrates the industry of literature.
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Crosswords And Con Men Meet In 'Manhattan'

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Crosswords And Con Men Meet In 'Manhattan'

Crosswords And Con Men Meet In 'Manhattan'

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Reading Adam Langer's new book, "The Thieves of Manhattan," is like woolfing -you mind moves very rapidly. Langer actually made up the verb to woolf. It's a reference to Virginia Woolf, who perfected the art of converting her own fast-moving consciousness into prose. There's a glossary of selected terms at the back of Langer's book, which is also hard to define.

Is "The Thieves of Manhattan" a novel, a memoir or a giant con game? The author Adam Langer is in our New York bureau. And, Adam, can you answer that question?

Mr. ADAM LANGER (AUTHOR, "The Thieves of Manhattan"): Well, I hope it's all three, cause I hope there's a certain amount of truth in it. I hope there's a lot of invention. And I hope it'll take everyone by surprise, which is what a good con game should do.

One thing I haven't told my publisher and I haven't told my editor - you're the first person Im telling - is there are around five or six anagrams and puzzles within the book that I haven't told anyone. They don't add to the plot, necessarily, but it could give you another level of understanding if you catch them.

HANSEN: Now am I going to have to go back and read the whole thing again? It's...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LANGER: I hope so. I hope a couple of times, yeah.

HANSEN: I mean, its bad enough, youve got a treasure map going on, you know. Youve got a con game going on.

At its heart, this book is really a biting satire of the publishing industry. We dont want to give everything away, but for people who are listening who haven't read the book or seen it yet, can you condense it to a book pitch?

Mr. LANGER: It's a story about a down-on-his-luck writer who gets an offer he can't refuse, because he can't afford to refuse it 'cause he's got no money. And the offer is to put his name to a fake memoir and, in so doing, scam the publishing industry.

HANSEN: By revealing that it's not a real memoir, it's a novel. But then the plot twists and turns more times than a Mobius strip after that.

Mr. LANGER: Yeah. Can I tell you why Im really excited to be here talking to you?


Mr. LANGER: It's a lot of times writers are asked about their influences, and when I've written previous books I say oh, you know, Virginia Woolf influenced me or Beverly Cleary influenced me. Here, every day before I sat down to write, I did The New York Times crossword puzzle.


Mr. LANGER: If anybody influenced me for this book, it was Will Shortz.

(Soundbite of laughter)

HANSEN: That's fascinating. Im sure he'll be glad to learn that 'cause it is a puzzlement right up until the end.

First of all, let me ask you, why the made-up language? Let me just give a couple of examples. A big advance you call a Frazier, after the author of "Cold Mountain." You have Fitzgeralds, which are a drink.

Mr. LANGER: Well, I didn't want to overdo it with the language, but I did use it a bit because whenever I read thrillers they're always jammed pack with jargon. There's hardboiled jargon. There are technical details when you go through procedurals. And I thought, if I'm writing a thriller about the publishing industry, it should have its own slang, too, and it should be literary, as well. So it was something I was really trying to have a lot of fun with and also to pay all those hardboiled writers and, you know, technical procedural thriller writers back by giving them some jargon of their own.

HANSEN: You know, it reminds us of great literary hoaxes. I mean, you even have a blurb from Clifford Irving, who pulled off a great hoax writing an autobiography of Howard Hughes. What are some of the other publishing hoaxes that inspired you?

Mr. LANGER: Some of my favorites are - there was a woman named Magdalen King-Hall, who in the earlier part of the 20th century, she was 19, she passed herself off as having written an 18th century diary of a young woman of fashion in Paris. And it was a huge hit.

There was Ern Malley, who was a fictional modernist poet who wrote poems about - things like: I am the black swan of trespass - complete nonsense that was passed off for the literary cognoscenti of Australia.

And I started writing this during a period where there was just a ton of this going on, which was just a couple of years ago when we had Margaret Jones who wrote "Love and Consequences," when we had Norma Curry who wrote "Forbidden Love," when we had people who were supposedly plagiarizing memoirs or making them up. And there's just this whole giant history of the literary hoax, which I've always admired these from afar.

HANSEN: And how does it get by the publishing industry?

Mr. LANGER: People in publishing love a good story and they love being taken in by a good story. And sometimes a person's talent as a storyteller can go past people's nonsense detector, Ill put it.

HANSEN: What intrigues you about fakery? Because it - you dont just limit it to the publishing industry - there's art thats faked, there are books that are faked.

Mr. LANGER: I just love to hear a good story, whether it's true or not. And I've always been drawn to the sort of Clifford Irving stories, to the Orson Welles movie "F for Fake." And when I think about my influences for this book -aside from Will Shortz - I think about film and I think about music.

And I think about something like, for example, "Sunset Boulevard" inspired me, which was something that both showed respect to an industry but savaged it at the same time. It had respect for the Golden Years of Hollywood but, at the same time, just mercilessly tore it apart. And, you know, this idea of respect and satire at the same time in "Sunset Boulevard" was something I was striving for here a little, as well.

HANSEN: Yeah. You do play mind games with the readers. And at one point characters are trying to sort things out, and you write about separating the threads of truth from fiction. How did you manager not tangle all the threads of plot and character? Im imagining you like Jacqueline Susann, who used put colored index cards on the wall to keep her own track.

Mr. LANGER: You know, I did do that and I had never done that before. But I actually never looked at them because they kept falling off, because I had them up with Scotch tape and the humidity kept making them drop. So I just - the process of doing the file cards may have organized in my mind. But for me, I write fairly quickly. Most of this was written in a just spurt of frantic action, blasting Elvis Costello music for about six weeks.

But I kept writing and rewriting and rewriting and rewriting, and redoing it until I almost knew the whole story in my head. And the idea, it's almost kind of like a juggling act where you just kind of have to keep all the balls in the air at the same time. So, ultimately, I think the story works now and all the threads are tied together, even with those anagrams I mentioned to you before.

HANSEN: Does the story end on the last page?

Mr. LANGER: No story does.

HANSEN: Adam Langer is the author of "The Thieves of Manhattan," and he joined us from our New York bureau. Thanks a lot.

Mr. LANGER: Oh, thanks so much. It's been fun.

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