Bookshots: 'Shovel Ready' by Adam Sternbergh
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
Who wrote it?
Adam Sternbergh, Culture Editor of the New York Times Magazine where he also occasionally blogs. Shovel Ready is his first novel.
Plot in a Box:
A Hitman with nothing to lose has a change of heart when he discovers his latest mark is young, pregnant and the daughter of a sinister evangelist with more skeletons in his closet than Jim Jones.
Invent a new title for this book:
Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Shovels
Read this if you liked:
Shovel Ready reads like the result of an illegal cloning experiment between Andrew Vachss and William Gibson. Fans of either of these authors might find a new spiritual home here.
Meet the book’s lead:
Spademan — once a disposer of garbage, now a disposer of human garbage.
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:
Jason Statham. There can be no other.
Would you want to live here?
NYC — yes. Futuristic NYC after a dirty bomb — no.
What was your favorite sentence?
Sternbergh’s sentences are shorter than a drill sergeant’s ball hairs, so I’ve bent the rules and picked three:
Private guards got creative. Peeled a kid and hung him upside down from a tree. That didn’t play well, even in the Post.
Let’s just forget for a moment that from a brief Google, Sternbergh presents like Lena Dunham in a jock strap: in other words, a person with the connections, friends and background to make anything he writes — from recipes for toad stew to one-man-Beckett-style plays about the meaninglessness of IKEA — immediately land a cushy publishing deal.
Let’s not be bitter. Let’s cut Sternbergh some slack. Because despite all those advantages — meaning that I came to Shovel Ready with my canines bared and my snark-register well into the red — the boy has actually written a rather good book.
Yes, Shovel Ready fits neatly into the category of noir: the clipped prose, the seedy bars, the morally ambiguous hero, the morally ambiguous heroine, the morally ambiguous sidekicks. This is noir, but not as we know it, Jim. This is dystopian noir, a Philip K. Dickian mashup of traditional gumshoe tropes with a sinister future-world where metaverse addicts spend most of their time prone on mattresses lost in the virtual reality of their choice. And okay, there’s nothing too original about that concept either, but Shovel Ready exploits the combination with the kind of stylish vigor that made Blade Runner such a massive cult success. Spademan may not retire androids, but he carves up those who cross him with Deckard’s deadpan panache, and the enemy, as in all good dystopia, consists of the rich and the powerful, the exploiters of the weak and the disadvantaged.
Shovel Ready isn’t perfect. The final showdown, where the action is split between real and virtual realities, feels rushed and awkward. Sternbergh never really nails down the logic of his plot, with crucial details of just what the evangelist anti-hero is up to being levered in almost as an afterthought at the end. And instead of overcoming the enemy singlehanded, Spademan prevails through a stroke of luck. But those are minor complaints. Overall, Shovel Ready succeeds, and if not with triumph, at least with a world weary shrug of the shoulders and a shot of hard liquor on the rocks.
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