Crossing California

Crossing California Set In Chicago S Jewish Neighborhood Of West Rogers Park, This Is The Story Of Three Families Adults And Children Alike Coming Of Age During The Tumultuous, Turbulent Days Of The Iran Hostage Crisis At The Close Of The S, The Rovners, The Wasserstroms, And The Wills Silvermans Will Have To Shed Their Pasts To Cross Into That New, Shining Decade Of Hope The S

Adam Langer is a journalist, author, playwright and filmmaker.His work has been featured most recently on NPR s Selected Shorts, in The Best Men s Stage Monologues 2000, and The Best Women s Stage Monologues 2000, as well as in the Chicago Reader s Fiction Issue, and in the literary magazine Salt Hill His plays have been produced in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, and numerous othe

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  • Paperback
  • 512 pages
  • Crossing California
  • Adam Langer
  • English
  • 03 February 2019

10 thoughts on “Crossing California

  1. says:

    Several months after first reading Crossing California, I discovered a video on author Adam Langer s website Narrated by Langer, the video features early 1970 s Super 8 footage of Chicago s West Rogers Park, the neighborhood in which the novel is set Unearthed from the basement of his parents home, this should have been a gem to me I was absolutely captivated by this novel, and I admit to being something of an Adam Langer fan boy Strangely, my first response to this footage was dejection The vintage home movie footage failed miserably to measure up to the imagery of Langer s novel I didn t want to learn what this world actually looked like in 1972 my own West Rogers Park was the only one I needed I guess it was a microcosm of a tired but often accurate clich The book was so much better than the movie or in this case, the home movie

    Eventually, this experience forced me to a comforting revelation that I re live often than I should have to The world needs great books. I read fiction to escape to a place where reality is suggested and framed out by an author, but ultimately built, defined, and experienced by each unique reader This is an all consuming interactive process, stretching brain muscles that otherwise go unused The world needs great books, and Adam Langer s debut novel is just that.

    Crossing California is a momentous, heartbreakingly funny diorama of a novel, with characters at once vibrant and dopey but almost always charming Though essentially a coming of age tale, it doesn t fit snugly into that niche Unlike, for example, Russell Banks s Rule of the Bone in which focus rarely shifts from Bone there are numerous well developed and essential characters here Following the intersecting lives of the Wasserstrom, Rovner, and Wills families is a rewarding pursuit, with plenty of quirks and twists along the way Yet somehow, I think Langer s characters are actually overshadowed by his brilliant sense of place.

    Every scene in Crossing California has been thoughtfully sketched out for readers Tucked away in the book s front matter is a simple two page map of West Rogers Park The map itself is unremarkable, but I found myself obsessively consulting it as Langer s rich prose expanded the dimensions of this neighborhood I felt like a child with a gorgeous new pop up book new buildings, streets, and forests springing to life all around me So back to the map I went, repeatedly, in search of answers to pressing questions Where s Mount Warren in relation to Wolfy s Hot Dogs What s the best route from Ida Crown Academy to Jill Wasserstrom s apartment I have never cared so deeply about or felt so rewarded by the sense of place in a novel.

    Finally, Langer s readers are flawlessly transported to the late 1970s Awkward teenage encounters, religious rites, and tales of adolescence and forced adulthood are all anchored by a keen sense of history Langer s references to contemporary politics, music, sports, and film in the first chapter alone you ll find nods to ELO, the Iran hostage crisis, and Walter Payton ground the novel in its unmistakable era The true genius of this book is the slick combination of so many minute details that congeal to build a swaying tower of a plot, all supported by that sturdy foundation, Langer s uncanny sense of place In short, this is a beautiful book A bestseller in its own moment, it may one day be regarded among the very best Chicago novels

  2. says:

    It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other wayIn short, the seventies were ending.I was there And just exactly like the characters in this book, I was in the eighth grade junior high school purgatory Part of me can barely stand to recall it The other half prods at the memories the way you are compelled to pick at a scab I am intrigued by the ways in which we remember our collective pasts Now that my own generation is penning fiction and memoirs set in the 70s and 80s, I am eager to read other people s memories of that era and compare them with my own Adam Langer has written an interesting and hard to pin down family story set in the Chicago community of West Rogers Park This neighborhood is urban and Jewish and, like many communities, it has a geographic line of class distinction California Avenue represents the Other Side of the Tracks If you live west of California you are safely upper middle class If you are living east of it, you are somewhere between poor and striving.The Wasserstroms live east of California in a dinky walk up Widower and seventies sad sack, Charlie Wasserstrom, loves his two daughters and does his ineffectual best to raise them alone But it is the seventies so they are often allowed to raise themselves while Charlie works his dead end restaurant jobs Michelle is the oldest daughter, a sass mouth burnout chick who favors sex, pot and The Who over school She is, however, an aspiring actress and the star of all the high school dramatic productions And what an actress Michelle can be She has many of the best lines in the book and weaves whoppers throughout for everyone s amusement mainly her own.Jill is the moody high achiever and resident crank I appreciated her prickly character although she is very maddening at times She is the best friend, muse and eventual thorn in the side of Muley Wills, the son of a black mother and Jewish father and the character that transcends many aspects of life in the neighborhood Muley s multiracial background distances him from the other characters as does his ingenuity and creativity Muley and Jill are two loners who are tentatively happy together.Lastly, the upper middle class Rovner family is featured on the better side of the tracks Parents Michael and Ellen are the chilly self absorbed seventies parents I remember as a main feature in the novels and films of the era The seventies was the era of Grown Ups Parents were portrayed as independent operators who sought actualization in career, love affairs or therapy I am not sure if Langer had this parental archetype in mind when he developed the Rovners or if he just based them on people he actually knows But they definitely reminded me of those early Big Chill type adults The kids, Lana and Larry, also represent the era in their independence and cunning Lana is a manipulative bitch, to put it mildly Her own mother would not find fault with that description Larry is, perhaps, likeable But he is also very in love with his own personal mythology, dreams of being a rock singer and generally takes himself too seriouslyand to a comic degree.The skill in the story is the manner in which the author has taken these disparate and over the top characters and pulled them together into a neat bundle in the end Crazy and disjointed things happen throughout the plot which can, at times, approach a rollicking pace It will be a bit of a wild ride and you, as the reader, may wonder where it is all going But the pieces fall into place at the end and even the most improbable aspects of the story suddenly have a point.The general historic back drop to the action is the Iranian Hostage Crisis This book is not, however, a memoir about this event It plays in the background along with other stock characters from the time period As is true with young people, the events in their own lives overshadow larger ones As someone who shares a birth year with several of the main characters, I enjoyed the inclusion of the glossary of terms at the end of the book It was fairly spot on with the pop cultural references John Anderson, Barry Commoner, Mike Royko, John Denver, ELO, Chuck Mangione, Rex Smithand Baryshnikov Oh, thank you Adam Langer for bringing him into this too I had my room evenly divided between Sting and Mischa in 1980 I am impressed that the author recalls that Baryshnikov was basically Slavic Sex on a Stick in those days and my bedroom walls and school locker were plastered with stalkeresque shrines to his charms.According to the author, he chose this era because everything changed during the Last Days of Disco I know that everything changed for me, personally I still remember, quite vividly, sitting in my Latin class in January of 1980 We were just back from winter break and I had to write the date at the top of my page of hellish verb declensions I considered that I had been writing 197 for my entire life The sixties were just a toddler blur of Romper Room and elderly ladies wearing pill box hats with netting and black and white TV Now I got to write 1980 for the first time and it gave me hope.Surely 1978 and 79 had been the nadir of my existence I was a nerd used interchangeably with geeknot yet the kind of millionaire geek who makes piles developing phone apps and gets plenty of sex and money a nerd being psychologically bitch slapped by the blood sport of junior high Four years ago, in the groovy Bicentennial, I had been a happy 9 and 10 year old kid doing the Hustle at sleepovers and pretending to be Wonder Woman By 1979 I was a world weary 13 year old loser resigned to an eternity of Love Boat viewing with my parents on Saturday night.But 1980 meant the next ten years Ten years from now I will be 23, almost 24 I realized I won t be here I ll be an adult I might be married I might have a kid Or at least a date 1980 gave me permission to go home and spend the next 4 years riding out high school and plotting my exit from Geauga County like some third rate anarchist I wrote off those years and looked to the future as something glamorous and less stifling than the present The eighties certainly delivered in superficial upward mobility and theatricality I had a very fun decade, despite my immersion in underground music and my preference for thrift store garb and Die Yuppie Scum fashion statements Yes, the character of Jill spoke to me But I forgot the good things about what came first And this smart and quirky story brought a lot of it back for me.

  3. says:

    Crossing California is the story of three families living in the West Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, IL and takes place during the Iran Hostage Crisis While the country transitions from the Carter years to the beginning of the 1980s and Reaganomics, the three families also find themselves going through major transitions.I picked up this book simply because I live in Rogers Park and figured even if I didn t care for it, I could still learn a bit about my neighborhood s history and enjoy reading about familiar places I did learn a lot about Rogers Park Langer is incredibly detail oriented, you get a very vivid picture of what the area looked, smelled, and felt like in 1979 , but happily I found a lot to love in it.This is a character driven piece The plot moves at the pace of everyday life there are no big manufactured dramatic scenes, but I still found myself running back to the book for The characters, particularly the teenagers, were so alive and real, they jumped off the page and demanded my attention I wouldn t necessarily recommend it to everyone, I think a lot of people might find it boring or wonder exactly where it s going But for anyone who likes slice of life, interwoven stories, pieces that capture a certain place time, or care for characters than plot, go get thee to a bookstore and pick this up

  4. says:

    I started reading Crossing California on a day when I had a lot of time to get into the book As a result, I found myself transported to the West Rogers Park neighbourhood of Chicago I felt I knew these characters, as if they were people in my school or community 200 pages into the novel, I was enthralled.Then, as I read on, my enthusiasm waned The story went on too long many of the characters became tedious in their self absorption, and, in my opinion, the author seemed to be enjoying his own cleverness a little too much I wanted from the novel, some deep meaning that eluded me, but I never found it.Langer s style is unique in two ways that set his narration apart Firstly, he avoids dialogue in favour of an omniscient narrator, who relates conversations second hand I found this technique a little off putting I wonder why he chose to do this Secondly, he likes to layer his narration, so that some events recur when the tale is told with a different focal character This, I thought, worked quite well, and allowed Langer to stretch a day, like New Year s Eve, 1979, over many pages.Overall, my appreciation to the book lessened as I continued to read it This novel had great potential but never achieved it

  5. says:

    As far as I m concerned, this book and its sequel, The Washington Story, are must reads Together, they cover around a decade in the lives of a bunch of Jewish kids growing up on Chicago s north side They are long, dense, and really funny I don t tend to laugh a lot when reading, but these books did it I d read another one tomorrow.

  6. says:

    I liked it Not the most complex or profound book in the world, but enjoyable and engaging, plus the Roger s Park backdrop was super fun and familiar

  7. says:

    adam langer is OBSESSIVELY attentive to detail the sheer number of pronouns in this book is probably than in any book i ve ever read he faithfully, resolutely, precisely reps the hood , not only his hood, but his hood, west rogers park, at a very specific point in time 1979 1981, when being liberal was on its way out and reaganism reaganomics was taking over my aunts used to live in a bungalow on morse in rogers park, so some places he mentioned were familiar, like fluky s not only is the setting extremely vividly described, but the characters practically jump off the page too, they seem so real i especially loved the wasserstroms the whole family and the character of larry rovner, who reminded me of so many yarmulke wearing, brandeis bound jewish kids i knew in high school he also throws in a ton of historically accurate pop culture references it s very clear he did his research i was a little resentful when langer only described evanston my hometown as a dim white suburb where everyone was rich here, he could have used his obsessive habit of specifying to specify exactly which parts of evanston he was referring to, but instead chose to broadly generalize north and east evanston, of course, like north and east chicago, are generally wealthy and nicer, but the south and west corners of evanston get pretty rough of course, people in evanston tend to be wealthier than people in rogers park, and there s a lot of gentrification going on but considering that langer went to evanston township high school where i also went , a school with a nearly 40% black 60% white ratio that sits on one of the sketchiest corners in town, he should have known better and given it a little bit of credit over say, wilmette a snootier, richer, whiter northern suburb which he equalized with evanston regardless, i really enjoyed reading this book and was sad when it was over you know the feeling i really have a lot of admiration for him to try and capture a place and time so precisely and i love that he has so much pride for his home neighborhood, which is pretty underrpresented in literature, i guess i don t know of any other famous contemporary novels about west rogers park in 1980, do you he also wrote very rich characters, whether they were likeable or unlikeable what a little bitch lana rovner was a good read for people who love chicago, or just love obsessive description.

  8. says:

    This book is incredible It takes place in Chicago from 1979 1981 It is the story of a small number of people whose lives are all intertwined in various ways I thought it was really fun to read because of all of the places that are mentioned that I live around or know about Also, I think that the characterization is great The characters all seem very real and honest I think that any student from the Chicagoland area would appreciate reading this because they would be familiar with the area I do think, however, that this is a book for mature adolescents because of the language and the topics discussed.One of the things that could be traced throughout this book if it were read in the classroom is cause and effect The events in this book are so directly related to one another that it would be helpful to point that out This is also something that is very important in history Sequencing would also be good to apply here, in order to trace the events that occur in the historical context of the novel as well as the events that directly involve the characters.

  9. says:

    Until recently, Langer was known primarily as a playwright and the author of a film festival compendium, but that s about to change Reviewers have heaped the kind of praise on Crossing California for which most first time novelists would sacrifice their coffee and nicotine Critics zeroed in on Langer s biting wit the youngest Rovner s song, My Love Ain t Always Orthodox, is a particular fave and lauded his depiction of youthful disaffection, embodied in characters like Jill, the intellectual outcast who defends the Ayatollah Khomeini in order to get a rise from her peers The minor complaints a few blanched at Langer s frank depiction of adolescent sexual high jinks and alleged that California sinks from the weight of its multiple story lines The Plain Dealer claims the novel does not deliver on its ambition, while all the other critics enthusiastically say it does

    This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  10. says:

    Yet another Chicago related book This one covers the early 1980s and the lives of several families in the northern suburbish area called Rogers Park California is in reference to the street in Chicago, not the state, and how it marks a line between neighborhoods Chicago is, afterall, a city of neighborhoods and also a city with an obvious divide between races Growing up in the Southern U.S I never thought I would encounter such disctinctions between race as I have found in Chicago This book delves into the lives of various families and teenagers of various socio economic backgrounds and religions and forms a great story of the future and the past coming together That kind of makes sense, but you need to read to understand Favorite part Rovner

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