Truth is stranger than fiction, and vice versa

As in several novels from the past decade, books play an important role in Adam Langer’s The Thieves of Manhattan. In this 2010 view of writing and publishing in New York, some books are fiction and some are non-fiction, but all of them are stories, and they are mostly agented by Geoff Olden and published by Merrill Books. Ian Minot’s adventures – straddling genre, deceptions, deals and the theft of a copy of The Tale of Genji that eventually gets sold at auction for $8.13 million – are mostly stage-managed by a disgruntled author-cum-editor called Jed Roth who is fixated on the death of publishing.

I asked Roth if he’d ever work in publishing again.  No, he said, that business was dying. Books would never disappear entirely, there would always be places to buy them, libraries where you could read them. But for him, they had lost their romance.

His solution is a novel one.

He said he might start some business in Europe, maybe in London, or perhaps in some other foreign country whose language he didn’t speak, one where it would take him a lifetime to understand what old traditions were passing, so he wouldn’t regret their disappearance.

There is a lot of code and personal argot in this fast-moving narrative, and many shifts between what’s fact and what’s fiction, and why the distinction might matter to publishers and readers. What is clear in the end is that truth isn’t really what’s important, just whether the writer has a good story that the publisher can put a good spin on.

After early doubts, Ian very soon puts away any suggestion that writers and publishers are ‘betrayers of the public trust’ or otherwise ‘despicable’ – the gentleman publisher has transmogrified.

Now that I was one of them, and had dated another, I saw them as All-American rogues. Who hadn’t fudged their taxes, embellished a résumé, or invented a tale to impress a date?

Adam Langer, The Thieves of Manhattan, 2010


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