By the time Adam Sternbergh’s narrator, the repellent yet temptingly beguiling assassin for hire, Spademan, talked about escaping to “pretend land” and the “addictive, maddening, seductive, destructive part of life” called “limning, or tapping in, or going off-body, or whatever…,” I was already in love.
With Spademan? Perhaps. He’s just the kind of sociopath I love. With Adam Sternbergh? Most definitely. He’s the kind of literary dervish I worship.
I’m going to briefly plot-synop for you, because I’d eventually like publishers and agents to send me advance reading copies (and – well – PRINT advance reading copies of my books) but, like I’ve said before – not so much my thing. Spademan lives in a future New York, ravaged by a dirty bomb which left him widowed. Now, he causes others to grieve by committing contract murders. Much of the population spends at least part of their time going off-body which is a sort of drug-induced-dream-alternate-reality; the poor do it in a future equivalent of opium dens, while the rich do it in elaborate comfort watched over by armed guards. Spademan was “alone and out of work and bed-hopping and burning through what little cash” he had left when a friend asked a favor which turned into his first kill. And by bed-hopping, Spademan means diving into the empty, because the alternate reality into which he prefers to dive is a void.
He gets a new contract. Complications ensue. This is going to be a series. Thank the dark, goth-metal, emo-lit, new age noir gods. This book rocks. Really, really quickly. It is staccato in the best possible way, spare and cynical, but the kind of cynical born of a broken heart and lived by a damaged soul; a muscular, sexy, psychopathic angel gone bad because he discovered god was not only dead, but had never actually been alive in the first place. This novel manages to be somehow pomo while retro in a way that is reverential to Chandler and Hammett and black and white movies (not films, my pretentious friend, but sit in the dark, gum on the floor, tub of popcorn, cop a feel of your date, movies) made before the Hayes Code took over and took out the balls and covered up the cleavage and yet, somehow, Sternbergh (or, as I like to call him – my future one-night-stand) makes it also convincingly of a future given flesh and breath. One wants to go find one of these beds and go off-body. Well, if one is me. (Or, on body, if the body is Sternbergh’s.)
Hell, I’ve spent most of my adult life looking to go off-body. Who hasn’t? At least a little. Sometimes? Right? Oh come on, you know you have. The world sucks. There are dirty bombs dropping every day. They may not be made of fertilizer and nails all the time, but, instead, of racism and hate and homophobia and sexism and classism and all the other obias and isms that are being promulgated and preached from the pulpits of the powerful in an effort to terrify and divide us. Sternbergh captures the poison penetrating the Zeitgeist and shapes it into a new world, a world he convincingly portrays as right around the corner.
But he does it so prettily. There’s the trick. All that ugly done so well, with so much style, you almost want to go there. And sleep with Spademan. Who played Mitch in Streetcar in high school but “would have made a better Stanley.” Yeah, sometimes while I was reading, I was fairly certain Adam had been perusing my blog and looking to write a novel that would make me want to stalk the mind behind it. Tennessee Williams and Frank Sinatra and Julia Child and Wizard of Oz allusions? Come on. Marry me, already.
And the writing is ridiculously, gloriously musical. listen:
Once upon a time, you walked these blocks, you were wading waist deep in a river of people. The streets stank of spoiled seafood and the sidewalks were sticky with fish oil and ice-melt, dumped at day’s end. And from sun-up to lights-out, these blocks would sing. Shouting, shuffling, haggling, hustling, vendors hawking knock-offs, shopkeepers harassing you in Cantonese as you pass like you stole something from them and they wanted it back. Fresh carp sunbathing on wood crates of packed ice. Hot dumpling soup for a dollar. Ducks, plucked and bashful, hung on hooks in a windowpane, like a warning t other outlaw ducks.
Chinatown met the same fate as the city, only more so. Last generation died off. Next generation moved to Jersey. Or upstate New York. Or the Carolinas. Or anywhere but here, downwind from a dirty bomb. Turns out no matter how deep your root system, you can always pull it up.
Have ducks, will travel.
That is ridiculously beautiful. Alliteration and consonance and rhythm. It’s a poetry of despair and it tumbles and twists and turns and surprises and delights, much like this entire novel which is a thriller and a sci-fi and a social commentary and a romance (sort of) and just damned good and readable: as in, you will NOT want to stop. So clear a few hours and get yourself a good bottle of red wine and settle in and read SHOVEL READY.
You will love it. You will love Spademan. And you will love Adam Sternbergh, because the mind that came up with this world, this plot, and this edge-of-your-seat, amphetamine fast yet heroin-hazy way of telling the tale, is a man you want to know. But back up, I’m first in line as his lit-stalker. And if you get in my way, I will wake long enough from my limnal coma to hire my own shovel and box-cutter wielding assassin to do you in.