Shovel Ready – Adam Sternbergh (Crown Books)
Don’t let the title fool you; this isn’t a recounting of Obama’s failed, so-called economic recovery plan. I would take the bet that that my opening line would likely piss off author Adam Sternbegh, based solely on his creds as the culture editor at the New York Times Magazine and as the former editor at large of the New Yorker. I’m okay with that because Sternbegh’s caricatures of evangelical Christians and too hip for the room writing style piss me off.
While at first I wanted to dislike Shovel Ready, in the end I found myself attracted to the devastated, dystopian, New York City and Sternbegh’s gritty, disconnected, characters. The storyline mixes an all but deserted, post terrorist dirty bombed Big Apple with park protestors oddly reminiscent of the Occupy movement, a rag tag bunch of denizens with a range of specific skills who cling to the City and the overtly rich who check out of reality and into the brave new futuristic world of the limnosphere.
While not science fiction, there is a certain Philip K. Dick quality to slipping into a sleek, coffin-like bed, strapping on a “feed bag” and checking into a cloud based reality that the user can design and create to his or her liking. Driving the story is a former garbage man, turned killer for hire Spademan, who for the right price will take out the trash. Spademan answers his burner phone, takes his next job and ends up crashing headlong into a religious huckster peddling a slice of heaven here on Earth in the form of a trip into the new reality.
Sternbergh uses the omnipotent point of view that not only takes the reader into the characters conversations, but also into their thoughts and fears. At times he uses spare style that allows the reader to fill in the blank and take the leap to where the character will turn next. At times he falls into a liberal stereotype trap; of course the fallen from grace former youth minister ends up being gay, as if that mattered to the storyline. While I had to muddle through the bits of liberal know it all, I did find Shovel Ready to be intriguing and entertaining and could certainly see it being adapted for the big screen.