The Story Behind THE THIEVES OF MANHATTAN by Adam Langer
story of The Thieves of Manhattan was born in the back of a limousine,
bound for a party to which I had not been invited. I was in LA, and I
was seated between two other authors. In the limo, the three of us joked
about whom we would pretend to be when we arrived at the party so that
we could get past the bouncer.
ďIíll say Iím a glamorous movie star,Ē said one of the writers.
ďIíll be a rapper,Ē said the other.
ďIíll just pretend to be a writer,Ē I said.
I was joking, but when I found myself at the party talking to a
memoirist, whose most-recent, bestselling nonfiction book sounded to me
like a preposterous fraud, I had a disturbing realization: Each of us
was, in some fashion, a con artist, striving to maintain relevance in an
increasingly-marginalized industry, pursuing writing careers in a
country that read less and less. When I got back to the West L.A.
apartment where I was staying, I had an idea for a storyóa caper about a
fake memoir, set in the twilight of the beleaguered world of publishing,
a story in which the most outlandish tales would turn out to be true,
while just about everything that was taken for granted turned out to be
Like just about everyone else in the book world, during these past few
years, Iíve spent a lot of time captivated by the myriad stories of
literary hoaxes, of plagiarism allegations, of fake or embellished
memoirs. Iíve even become a student of this sort of fiction. Or
nonfiction. Or whatever you call that category that exists on the border
between what actually happened and what was made up. Iíve read James
Freyís exaggerated tales of drug abuse and criminality; Iíve read the
razor-sharp short stories of the teenaged JT Leroy, who was really the
brainchild of the forty-something Laura Albert. Iíve read about the
exploits of Clifford Irving, who scammed the publishing industry when he
invented from scratch the autobiography of reclusive billionaire, Howard
Hughes. Iíve read the ridiculous Stephen Glass articles that havenít
been expunged from the Internet. Iíve read Forbidden Love by Norma
Khouri and found myself drawn in by her tales of Jordanian honor
killings, and Iíve listened with something approaching admiration to
Margaret Jones, the prep school grad who convincingly adopted the voice
of a South Central LA gangbanger for her now-discredited book Love and
And, when I was preparing to write The Thieves Of Manhattan, I read the
older, now-forgotten exemplars of the genreóthe lurid tales of a
libidinous suburban housewife in Naked Came The Stranger; The Diary of A
Young Lady Of Fashion, purportedly a journal from 18th Century France
but really written by a 20th Century British teenager. I became
hypnotized by the nonsensical poems of the fictional poet Ern Malley,
compiled in The Darkening Ecliptic, which became part of what was
arguably the greatest literary scandal in the history of Australia.
Though part of me has felt a certain outrage at some of the more blatant
literary frauds, I have also experienced a grudging admiration and some
sympathy. For, I too have felt the temptation. Iíve felt it when
interviewers have complimented me on how realistic a sequence in one of
my books seems to be, then asked, ďDid this actually happen?Ē I always
feel Iím letting someone down when I say, ďNo, I just made it up.Ē I
have felt the temptation on tough research assignments, when answers
have seemed so elusive; how easy it would be to invent some incident,
quote some imaginary source. And I have felt the temptation when editors
have read drafts of my articles, then asked, ďIs that all that
happened?Ē ďWasnít there anything more?Ē And what I have often felt
tempted to do is to say, ďWait a minute. There is more. Much more.Ē
After which, I want to spin a tale, one thatís far more remarkable and
dramatic than the true tale Iíve told. But Iíve never done that. Too
many scruples, perhaps. Or maybe just too little courage.
I started writing The Thieves of Manhattan shortly after completing a
memoir, one in which I felt bound dutifully to the truth. In Thieves, I
felt no such obligation. I wanted to tell the most outlandish story
possible, to people it with outrageous characters, insane plot twists,
chase scenes, double-crosses, scams within scams within scams, to create
the perfect literary crime. That was the fun and easy part; the hard
part was trying to make everything seem true. A difficult task, even in
publishing, an industry that always seems ripe for a good con.
Along my path, I have won new admiration for some of the cleverest
practitioners of literary fraud. Iíve even befriended two of them, who
took what could have been a simple lie and raised it to an art form all
its own, and am strangely proud to say that Laura Albert (aka JT Leroy)
and Clifford Irving (aka Howard Hughes) have both graciously endorsed
The Thieves of Manhattan. On a spiritual level, I feel that my novel has
granted me honorary entrance into their exclusive society.
So, next time Iím invited to a swanky Hollywood party and I feel I have
to make up a story about who I am, I think Iíll say Iím a liaróthatís
probably one of the truest things a novelist can say about himself. Oh,
and as for that writer I mentioned, the one who I met out in LA, heís
still out there, writing books that he says are nonfiction. And just
about everybody still believes him.
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