I am very impressed with all these bloggers who have been posting lists of the books they're most looking forward to in 2014. One thing I fail miserably at when it comes to reading is keeping an eye on publishing news and forthcoming new novels. This stuff just doesn't hit my radar at all. I have enough trouble trying to keep track of the stacks of books that are already littering my house. So I have been reading everyone else's picks with a great deal of interest. It seems 2014 is shaping up to be a great year already!
A few weeks back this was a Top Ten Tuesday theme and I noticed a couple of people mention Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh as one they were looking forward to reading. It sounded right up my street and I was delighted to receive a copy via Netgalley, courtesy of the kind folks at Crown Publishing.
We find ourselves in an alternate future, some time after a devastating terrorist attack on New York. Dirty bombs and radioactive waste have rendered Times Square a no-go zone. Manhattan Island has lost its glamour and people have left in droves, migrating to other states, which are relatively untouched. But plenty of hardy souls remain. Some ignore the problem, and spend their days 'tapped in' to an idyllic virtual world online. Others just keep living their lives in the ghostly streets and tower blocks, unable to escape the hold that the city has on them.
Like Spademan. He was once a happily married and proud garbageman. But now he's alone, and there isn't so much garbage to collect these days. Instead, he uses his skills to take care of a different kind of disposal - working as a hitman. But when he is hired to get rid of the young runaway daughter of a reknowned and powerful preacher, he finds himself on the run from threats to his own life too.
This book is just so cool! I loved the contrast between the dystopian, almost futuristic setting, and the incredibly hard-boiled writing. The dialogue is razor-sharp and kept taking me back to old classic film noir scenes. The protagonist himself is also reminiscent of a pulp novel hero in that he's a total crook who has his own very dubious code of 'morals', but you can't help rooting for him throughout. I haven't read any other modern novels that have nailed that classic style quite so well. It's a pleasure to read.
The world-building is good too, and the setting is very convincing, though I would have liked even more detail about how exactly society manages to function in the wake such devastation. More about the 'camps' of young waifs and strays around Times Square, more about how people continue to run businesses and maintain any semblance of a normal life in a wrecked city. Unfortunately I think I have been spoiled a bit and am difficult to impress, because there have been so many great dystopian settings introduced in books over the past few years. For example, how can I not compare Sternbergh's 'limnosphere' to the outstanding virtual world detailed in Ernest Cline's Ready Player One? But the standard of writing is what sets this apart from the crowd. You could lift Spademan and transplant him into any other setting, in any era, and the book would still work.
It looks like this novel has caught the eye of some fairly influential types, as Warner Bros. are already set to produce a cinematic adaptation - starring Denzel Washington, if the rumours are to be believed! I'll be very interested to see what they do with this. I can imagine it working really well as a quirky neo-noir movie like Brick, or even something sleek and graphics-based like Sin City. What I fear is that it will turn out to be a run-of-the-mill Hollywood post-apocalyptic thriller. It feels like almost every single dystopian novel I've read over the past year has already been earmarked for the movies, which worries me a little. Sure, they're great stories, and if the producers do them justice it will be fantastic. But haven't we all had the frustrating experience of having a favourite book butchered on the silver screen?
I think what I'm trying to say is; don't delay. Read this now! I found it the perfect choice to kickstart a new year of reading.