Are After the Workshop (2010) by JohnMcNally and The Thieves of Manhattan (2010) by Adam Langer the same book? Both authors tackle the plight of the unsuccessful, blocked young writer with wit, verve, and satirical swipes at workshops, fraudulent memoirists, oily agents and the fickle literati. Unfortunately both resort to post-modern tricksy plotting whereby the book itself either becomes the book being written by the protagonist, or the protagonist thinks he’s writing fiction only to discover he’s ‘living’ the plot (no doubt to spoof post-modern tricksy novels in which etc. etc …..). These young male authors had a great idea about writing about a young male author stuck in the tall grass of his craft, only to get stuck in the tall grass themselves.
Langer, it must be admitted, creates some memorable characters and has a fabulous ear for dialogue. His hero, Ian, loses his heart to Anya, a Romanian memoirist, who responds to questions at readings with “neefer confuse my life weeth my feection; feection is not nearly so tredjic.” Anya, who “luffed” Ian, nevertheless dumps him for Blade, another memoirist, whose tales of heroin addiction and Crips involvement and going AWOL during the first Gulf War, prove hard to swallow but catnip to marketeers. Blade proves nifty at shifting his hardbacks, too, (“Ain’t no browsin’ privileges here, bro’…Y‘all gotta pay some shit if y’all wanna read my shit, compadre”), though poor Anya is eventually publicly viscerated on a talk show and shown to be an upstart from New Jersey.
Both novels are very enjoyable but the authors are way smarter than their material. While I look forward to their follow-ups, the following chilling remark made by a shifty literary agent in The Thieves of Manhattan will stay with me. When Ian asks him how he should prepare for questions from publishers about the authenticity of his memoir, the agent replies, “Here’s the funny thing, they’ll never ask you.“