What would it take for New York to return to the gritty, dangerous city it was pre-Bloomberg? In a time when the city is only getting cleaner and more expensive, author Adam Sternbergh writes about a lawless, treacherous New York City in his novel "Shovel Ready." The book is set in the near future after a bomb hits Times Square. Those who can leave do, abandoning others with no options who must forge a new life in a deteriorating city. At the heart of the book is a former trash collector who becomes a hitman.
If you think this sounds like it would make a good movie, you aren't alone. The book was optioned by Warner Brothers and Denzel Washington has signed on, potentially to play the lead.
"I tried to convey the idea of what one character calls this incremental apocalypse," Sternbergh, who is the culture editor at New York Times Magazine, tells us. "The apocalypse stuff we see in movies and books is usually very dramatic, with aliens blowing up the Empire State Building or zombies overrunning the city."
Sternbergh says he was more interested in the idea of a change taking place slowly, similarly to what happened in many major U.S. cities during the '60s and '70s. He cites Detroit as a modern-day example. "It's not as dramatic as the terrorist element in the book, but Detroit is completely unrecognizable now [compared to what] it was 50 years ago," he says.
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Spademan, the trash collector-turned-assassin gives the book a dark undertone, painting him as a classic antihero. But besides the whole killing people part of his personality, you just might be able to relate to Spademan's cranky and familiar demeanor. "The thing I've always liked about hard boiled tales is that they are always exaggerated metaphors for real life," says Sternbergh.
"Shovel Ready" also explores our relationship with technology. Wealthy city residents who choose not to leave cocoon themselves in a virtual reality, where all their fantasies can become real. When developing this idea for the novel, Sternbergh says it stemmed from the virtual age we live in now. "There was something very familiar about the idea of getting lost in real life and the way in which having that technological outlet can sometimes cause us to ignore what's happening around us," he explains.
As someone who has been living in and reporting on New York City for the past 10 years, Sternbergh says he certainly doesn't hope this NYC will descend into what is portrayed in the book, but he hopes it doesn't go too far in the other direction either.
Sternbergh says he fears that in a decade, New York City will feel museum-like, as Paris does, a beautiful city that exists for people to admire but lacking the energy and rebirth New York thrives on. "You have to imagine in 10 years the city is going to be very different than it is now, and I hope we're still here to enjoy it. And that the Second Avenue subway will be open."
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