Monday, November 17, 2014

Shovel Ready Brings Startling Story...and One Other Surprise!


I write for New York magazine and am the former culture editor of The New York Times Magazine. My first novel, “Shovel Ready,” is a future-noir thriller about a garbageman-turned-hitman set in a dystopian New York City. For many years I was the co-editor of the satirical celebrity website Fametracker. Raised in Toronto, I now live in Brooklyn, where I’m currently at work on a second Spademan novel, "Near Enemy," which is coming out in January, 2015.




I had to start with the author on this one, because he just about blew my mind with his style of writing. You all know my favorite author was Robert B. Parker. His crisp, sarcastic dialogue was what drew me in and I loved it... Picture a Parker book, with just as crisp, short sentences, but without quotes, he said/she saids, or anything else to guide you in reading...

Whoa! What do you think? Well, this immediately put me on alert, of course, but I found I slipped fairly easily into the story and, except for a number of times, I wasn't sure who was talking, and had to stop a second, I found that I quickly realized that it was moving faster than even Parker! Do I applaud this decision? I'm not quite sure. For this particular novel it worked, but for others? I'm just not ready to say...  But those who go crazy over the missing punctuation not found through editing...you have been warned...LOL

Another thing different was that the author included two discussions at the back of the book. These I thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated! They were reprints, but so what, few of us really get to read something directly related to the book we've just finished! So, kudos to the author for this idea! The topics are "anti-heroes" and "genres and nerds" [my own interpretation of the more sophisticated titles...] In fact, you might want to read these before you begin and are faced with the writing style..I think it would have help me a little to not get so unstrung. Obviously this is an author to watch as he stretches his creative genius into the fiction arena...


Shovel Read:
A Spademan Novel
By Adam Sternbergh

This novel crosses genres, perhaps a natural intermix in fact. Lev Grossman concludes one of the discussions with:
Weirdly, I am a crusty old sticker for genre distinctions. I love affixing labels to things, and I bristle like a monstrous Gamma World hedgehog-critic hybrid whenever people talk about the boundaries between genres dissolving. Genre distinctions are exciting! It would suck if they dissolved! It wouldn't be fun to cross two genres--like say postapocalyptic sci-fi and hard-boiled crime, as  in Shovel Ready--if there were no distinctions between them, and all fiction was just undifferentiated mush...
I agree with him and  have enjoyed the cross-genre novels more fully, but still like to differentiate the various genres. Readers can consider how the content has been liberated because of the additional complexity and creativity this has allowed... Don't you think?


The setting of the novel, in my opinion, is perfect. Where else would a post-apocalyptic sci-fi  be more familiar than where the entire world saw what happened on 9-11?

For one thing, Times Square is totally gone.



The population has been reduced by at least half, and most who stayed were too poor to relocate. The dirty bomb that took out the area has left many people still afraid. Those who might want to investigate whether anything is still usable normally carry a Geiger counter.
Parks are filled with camps where the homeless live and are now hassle-free since the cops do little to monitor safety...  That's mainly because of what has happened to the rich...



If you're a Star Trek fan, and have enjoyed the shows with holographic scenes were part of the story, then you will understand what I mean by saying that the rich have gone to "bed..." Not quite like the writers of Star Trek did it, though... In the future, after New York has been destroyed, the rich headed to the tops of the highest buildings and there they spend much of their time, entering into various holographic scenes, of their own choosing, in which they fantasize their days...and lives...away. Of course, they have nurses and other staff persons to help keep them clean, fed...and safe... The latter, however, is not as secure as supposed... Hackers still have to make a living in the future, right?

Enter Spademan...
My name is Spademan.
I'm a garbageman.

--this fucter

I don't care.

Don't you want--
Just a name.
I have his address.
Great.
See this fucker--
I said don't.
Okay.
The less I know, etcetera.
How much?
What I said. To the account I mentioned.
And how will I--
You won't hear from me again.
But how do I--
The dead guy. That's how.



Remember some of the films where Charles Bronson became a vigilante? Well, he was the first one I thought of that would have made a perfect Spademan. He had lost his wife during the bombings in New York...

He had also lost his job since there was little if any garbage to be collected in the following days. He had one thing left from his previous life...a special kind of knife...one he'd use on the job and had carried it with him until one day he opened one of the bags that had been tossed, with a live but dying baby in it...as garbage...

It wasn't that he set out to become an assassin, but now that he was in the business, he had set down the rules for himself--he didn't want to know any names, except the one to be "handled" and he demanded all money up front, transferred before it happened. No followup connection.

 I don't want to know your reason. If he owes you or he beat you or she swindled you or he got the promotion you wanted or you want to fuck his wife or she fucked your man or you bumped into each other on the subway and he didn't say sorry, I don't care. I'm not your Father Confessor.
Think of me more like a bullet.
Just point...

It might sound hard but it's all too easy now. This isn't the same city anymore. Half-asleep and half-emptied out, especially this time of morning. Light up over the Hudson. The cobblestones. At least I have it mostly to myself...

Used to be you'd see men with dogs. This was the hour for that. But there are no dogs anymore, of course, not in this city, and even if you had one, you'd never walk it, not in public, because it would be worth a million dollars and you'd be gutted once you got around the corner and out of sight of your trusty doorman and your own front door...
Now it's just nurses, and doormen and feed-bad delivery boys out at this hour. Tireless members of the service economy.
Like me...
~~~


So it turns out my Persephone has a
reputation. Everyone knows someone
who knows. The people who got too
close to her usually have some
memento. Something permanent,
in the process of healing.
~~~
Enter Persephone...

That was the name now being used by Grace Chastity Harrow... Yes, she's a relative of T. K. Harrow. The evangelist...

Spademan had verified that because famous people drew attention and it was a different rate for the job... He understood that Persephone was now living in one of the camps... but a surprise was there when Spademan... She had used a knife to cut up some of the residents... Yikes!

Spademan starts interviewing anybody who was willing to talk, but then, not too many were willing these days...

So, of course, by the time he finds her, he invites her home to his apartment.  You see, there was a line he wouldn't cross in his business... He would not harm children... Persephone was pregnant...

Now at least in New York, the Garbagemen are sources of important information...so the Spademan made a few calls... And, by the way, a little later readers will discover that they also have access to the incinerators... You know, clean up after yourself at the finish of the job?


Back to the holograph action... and here's where it gets downright eerie... T. K. Harrow and his business associates are all into it! If there's a slight waver of his body as he walks on stage, if you care, you would immediately know it was a holographic image. Now, I would go into specifics about how I consider potential individuals to play a certain role in a book but when this guy popped up, I admit he seemed a very good fit... Because, got to share, that while a holographic image is conducting his revival, the real T. K. is in bed, like the other rich men, and enjoying a fantasy...perhaps even the one he's trying to sell to his followers...

You see, he sells heaven on earth...Why wait?

So here's where the fantasy scifi gets exciting...Because action starts happening within the "tapped in" dreamlands... Cool, right?

Street-corner church service. Soap box preacher. Big crowd. More popular in these end times.

One of the more interesting characters I haven't mentioned is Mark, who appears to be struggling with exactly what he believes. But one thing is for sure, he's into "tapping in" so much so that he gets involved with helping solving the problem and thinks nothing about springing wings during his bed "fantasies...
Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die.

Mark paused the story.
So I've been teaching this passage a lot lately to my kids, my students. At first, I taught it the way that I learned it in Bible school. Not as a story of lust, or of corruption, but of temptation. You know, how God puts temptation in front of you. He allows you to feel your own weakness. To confront it just as Christ did here on Earth. Satan laid out the whole world to Christ, promised it to him, if only he'd bend a knee to Satan. And he felt it. Christ. He was tempted. But he didn't succumb. And we feel it too. Whether it's the apple in Eden. Or the desire to look back over your shoulder and watch Sodom crumble. Or spotting the most beautiful woman in Israel, bathing naked on a rooftop. I'm sure you have some secret temptation. Some secret shame...


Whoops, I would not think that it the teaching behind the David and Bathsheba story. And, indeed Mark found that out and quickly learns its real meaning...

And do you know what happens when the Lord is displeased with you?
No.
You end up in New York, outside a library, begging some stranger to put you in the ground...

Okay, the novel might two genres, but there are many more different issues in this book that will smack readers in the face, maybe even more than it did Spademan! But he had made a promise to himself and then to Persephone... Spademan was going to protect her unborn child...

I reallllly enjoyed meeting Spademan! And I'm looking forward to its sequel. What about all the religious issues in the book, you may ask? Well, in my opinion, if you can't test your own beliefs by reading of somebody's either nonfiction or fictional beliefs, then, that is a problem for yourself, don't you think...not the writer's...

Still, I think I would have like to read a few, "Mark said," or "Spademan said," to salvage my prideful years of knowing proper punctuation, especially with dialogue in fiction! LOL! Hey, Kudos to Adam Sternbergh, he has truly stretched the limits and boundaries in his Debut... Wonder what he'll be writing about say, in 3 years... Better watch and learn--he may be the new fiction guru for all future novels... OMG! LOL

If you're willing, I do highly recommend this novel and this author!


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