Arts & Culture

Jewcy Interviews: Author Adam Langer

In his latest novel, The Thieves of Manhattan, Adam Langer gets to poke fun at the sometimes stuffy New York literary world, and the people who’d like to be a part of it. Thieves is a digestible and very imaginative … Read More

By / August 30, 2010

In his latest novel, The Thieves of Manhattan, Adam Langer gets to poke fun at the sometimes stuffy New York literary world, and the people who’d like to be a part of it. Thieves is a digestible and very imaginative page turner, and in the hands of a writer of Langer’s caliber, the subject matter doesn’t come off as snarky or bitter.

You open things up with a Borges quote.  Why?

Well, I open up with a Borges quote followed almost immediately thereafter by a Milli Vanilli quote. The Borges quote comes from one of my favorite short stories, “The Circular Ruins.” which packs more philosophical playfulness and intrigue into a mere few pages than many novels do with one hundred times as much space. The story concerns an effort to dream another man in to existence, and to me, it always seemed to be an apt metaphor for the artistic process-the effort to dream something or someone into reality. The quote itself that I use can also be used to comment fairly directly on the plight of Thieves‘s narrator, Ian Minot, who, in trying to tell a story, finds himself on some level controlled by the story he is telling. Borges is also a great player with the concept of identity-the essay “Borges and I” comes to mind–which is something that’s central to Thieves.

Did James Frey or any of the other recent fake memoir controversies influence this book, or was it something you’d been thinking of writing for some time?

I want to be somewhat careful with how I answer this, because I don’t think what Frey wrote was “a fake memoir.” I think there’s a distinction to be made between exaggeration and fakery. But if the question is whether I was influenced by the onslaught of allegations of plagiarism, fakery, serial exaggeration, and so forth that seemed to be happening early on in the 21st Century, the answer is, of course. Though, I would also add that fake memoirs weren’t invented just a few years ago, and I was influenced by the long tradition of fakery in the world of literature…and everywhere else, for that matter.

I found some of the terms you used to describe object (Portnoy, Gogol, etc.) pretty funny.  Think Chuck Palahniuk would take offense to you naming the act of vomiting after him?

My aim wasn’t to offend anybody. What I really wanted to do was to create the mindset of a narrator who is completely immersed in a literary world, where everybody seems to have succeeded except him. And, to do this, I wanted to have Ian speak in his own literary slang that would reveal his tendency to frame his world using literary references.

Some of your books are more personal, and based on your life.  Thieves (I’m guessing) is totally fictional.  Is it easier for you to write books based off personal experience, or straight fiction?

Hmm….A lot of Thieves, or at least the spirit of it, comes very close to actual experiences I have had, though of course you’re right that I’ve never run through the streets of Manhattan to evade thuggish librarians or foul-mouthed manuscript appraisers. At the same time, many of the events in my first three novels are wholly fictional, even though they feel very real to me. I once did an interview with the author Robert Stone who said of his writing, “I like to take leave of ordinary reality.” Which isn’t all that different from how I’ve approached writing-start out with something solid, grounded in fact, and let my imagination take it where it will. So, I’m not really sure if there is anything I have written that would qualify as “straight fiction,” in that on some level it all starts with some basic grounding in my own experiences. At the same time, whenever I write nonfiction, I’m always conscious of how I’m framing and shaping it using similar techniques that I use in fiction. I’m often working on the border between fiction and nonfiction, whatever those labels really mean.

You’re also a playwright, any possibility of any of your books ever making it to the stage?

Sure, I’d love to see a theatrical adaptation of Thieves; I think it could be great fun, sort of like the stage version of The Thirty-Nine Steps that’s out there now. There was also some talk for a while of turning Ellington Boulevard into a musical. And, a couple years ago Lifeline Theatre in Chicago did a stage adaptation of Crossing California. I come out of a theater background, so I usually do think there are some elements in everything that I write that could be staged.

What’s coming up for you next?   Another book in the future? You seem to be cranking out one a year.

I just completed draft of a new novel, tentatively titled Quadrophenia,though other titles I have been playing with include For The Coast, The Evanstonians, and Look Back. It’s an elegiac comedy and road novel about four friends who grew up together in Evanston, Illinois. After that, I have two books in mind that I’m about to start working on; one’s another literary thriller; one’s a more fantastical love story.