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Crossing California [Mass Market Paperback]

Adam Langer
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)

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Book Description

May 3 2005
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 1970s, the Rovners, the Wasserstroms, and the Wills-Silvermans will have to shed their pasts to cross into that new, shining decade of hope: the 80s.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood in 1979, California Avenue divides the prosperous west side from the struggling east. Langer's brilliant debut uses that divide as a metaphor for the changes that occur in the lives of three neighborhood families: the Rovners, the Wasserstroms and the Wills. There are two macro-stories-the courtship of Charlie Wasserstrom and Gail Shiffler-Bass, and the alienation of Jill Wasserstrom from her best friend, Muley Wills-but what really counts here is the exuberance of overlapping subplots. One pole of the book is represented by Ellen Rovner, a therapist whose marriage to Michael dissolves over the course of the book (much to Ellen's relief: she's so distrustful of Michael that she fakes not having an orgasm when they make love). If Ellen embodies cool, intelligent disenchantment, her son, Larry, represents the opposite pole of pure self-centeredness. As Larry sees it, his choice is between becoming a rock star with his band, Rovner!, and getting a lot of sex-or going to Brandeis, becoming successful and getting a lot of sex. The east side Wasserstrom girls exist between these poles: Michelle, the eldest, is rather slutty, flighty and egotistical, but somehow raises her schemes (remaining the high school drama club queen, for instance) to a higher level, while Jill, a seventh-grade contrarian who shocks her Hebrew School teachers with defenses of Ayatollah Khomeini and quotes Nkrumah at her bat mitvah, is still emotionally dazed from her mother's death. Muley, who woos Jill with his little films, wins the heart of the reader, if not of his intended. Chicago produces a mix of intellectualism and naturalism like no other city, and Langer has obviously fed on that. His steely humanism balances the corruptions of ego against an appreciation of the energies of its schemes, putting him firmly in the tradition of such Chicago writers as Bellow and Dybek.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Adult/High School–The title of this first novel denotes a North Chicago thoroughfare, not the state; but crossing west of California Avenue can be as significant as a transcontinental trek to Rogers Park locals in the late 1970s. In West Rogers Park, neighborhoods are refined and prosperous, and doors are seldom locked. To the east, although the populace is also middle class and also mostly Jewish, the surroundings are scruffier and the atmosphere edgier. Residents remember to lock up, even idealistic young people such as restless eighth-grader Jill Wasserman and her friend Muley Wills, a teenage public-radio personality with an imaginary Soviet defector cousin he calls Peachy Moskowitz. Langer depicts the Rogers Park milieu and the era in loving detail as he follows Jill, Muley, and other intelligent adolescents–and their clueless parents–over two years bracketed by the Iran hostage crisis. With dead-on, deadpan humor, the book skewers social strivers and pompous achievers alike, while maintaining genuine sympathy and respect for the youthful characters' sometimes silly, if heartfelt, dilemmas. The setting will be ancient history to today's teens, and the virtually nonstop cultural references may be mysterious, but the author comes to the rescue with an amusing glossary in which he explains the pop icons mentioned in the narrative and provides translations for the many Yiddish and Hebrew expressions. No special tools are needed to decipher the book's universally appealing themes of growing up, looking for love, and finding one's identity, expressed here with empathy, wit, and irony.–Starr E. Smith, Fairfax County Public Library, VA
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
First Sentence
The day after an estimated seventy Americans were taken hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Jill Wasserstrom paused on the corner of North Shore and California Avenues to contemplate the accuracy of what she had proudly declared to Lana Rovner during recess at K.I.N.S. Hebrew School. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good read Jan. 26 2005
With quirky and interesting characters, and a setting in the 70s and 80s, I was prepared to love the novel . . . and I did. Not since Jackson McCrae's THE BARK OF THE DOGWOOD or the book YOU REMIND ME OF ME have I so enjoyed a book. The title, like most great books, is somewhat misleading as it's not about the state of California. That said, I was riveted throughout this stellar little gem and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in good writing. CROSSING CALIFORNIA is a keeper.
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5.0 out of 5 stars unforgetable characters July 16 2004
By A Customer
The structure of this book reminded me of Catch 22. It has short chapters, each told from the point of view of a central character, and the time covers the period from the taking of the hostages to the beginning of the Reagan presidency. Each character is hysterical (and somewhat screwy). And it is not always clear how they will resolve their various hangups. How, for example, will the not-very-good putative lead singer/songwriter of a Zionist rock band ever find a girlfriend? And how will his sister ever manage to have an orgy? And when will the Marxist radical Jill Waserstrom stop blowing off the boy who makes her the most beautiful movies imaginable?
I completely disagree with the negative reviews posted here and in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. The book is full of dialogue, some quite poignant. There are lots of moments narrated in real time. And I loved the writing -- lively, engaging, and truly funny in a way like nothing I've read since Catch 22.
I couldn't put the book down for two days. I think it's genius.
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The setting of CROSSING CALIFORNIA initially peaked my interest. I live fairly close to the Rogers Park neighborhood on the far north side of Chicago and have frequented several of the restaurants, parks and schools sprinkled throughout this book. I have eaten at Wolfy's, attended Roycemore School and daily drive past Mather Park. In essence, I cross California Avenue every day. With all that said, I can attest that Adam Langer knows his stuff well. He successfully captured the essence of Chicago.
Set against the city's and nation's social and political upheavals, CROSSING CALIFORNIA focuses on the lives and turmoil of a myriad of characters, mostly Jewish, who reside either to the east or west of California in Rogers Park. Included are oversexed teenagers who constantly buck the system by smoking pot, shoplifting and projecting their voices loud and clear along with their parents who filled with parental ills of their own. Each character is marvelously flawed in their own respects.
The narrative is told from diverse points of view and each are cleverly connected to the others similar to a spider web. Lastly, this book is hilarious and, despite the cliche, made me laugh out loud many times. I found myself astounded by Langer's social satire that was constantly fresh and never stale or distracting. This is a great debut novel by a talented new writer; I will definitely look forward to more works by Adam Langer in the future. Highly recommended.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A fully realized, fully unique achievement June 30 2004
There are bad novels, average novels, good novels, great novels, and then once in a while a novel comes along that rattles the cage of what, optimally, this literary form can and should achieve when approached by a fresh pen loaded with new and unique ideas. Adam Langer's "Crossing California" fits into the last category.
Many other reviewers have sung the praises of this work and given a synopsis of its plot and characters. I would like, therefore, to limit myself to ticking off what I think are the work's most innovative aspects.
First of all, this is a text that reminds me of what happens when a jeweler pops off the back of a Swiss pocket watch: you can see all the different gears and levers and wheels that work separately but ultimately coordinate themselves to produce a single mechanical movement. In much the same way, Langer's use of language creates a vast, dense, energetic panorama of people and events, but all of these diverse elements come together to form a clear, linear narrative. "Crossing California" boasts a crowded cast of characters--each of whom is well-drawn and distinct from the others. Even the tertiary personages who pop up only for a few lines add to the text's tone and motion. Simultaneously, each of the main characters has his or her own agenda, and pursues it in the deliciously detailed topography of the Rogers Park section of Chicago.
Langer's sense of humor must be described as a cornucopia. There's subtle humor, make-you-blush humor, laugh-right-away funny stuff, and laugh-the-next-day-when-you-finally-get-it funny stuff. All mixed together.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Believe The Hype June 23 2004
There were a few reasons why I was suspicious about this book. 1) The hype. I tend to think that what's supposed to be the Next Big Thing isn't. 2) The comparisons to The Corrections. I thought that seemed like a really good book, but I wasn't able to finish it. 3) I received Crossing Calif. as a gift from my sister and the last gift book she gave me was The Hours, which also seemed really good, and which also I didn't finish.
But once i began this book, my preconceptions completely dissipated. I don't know where to begin or even how to describe the book because the plot's very involved and complicated. But suffice it to say that Adam Langer gets into characters' heads like no other author I've read in a very long time, at least since graduate school. Over 400 pages, you get to know every character in each of these families' hopes, dreams, motivations. Days after finishing, I still have all of them buzzing around in my head. There must be more than two dozen and I feel I know every single one of them. This book captures what growing up in America was like during the 1970's and 1980's with unbelievable precision and accuracy.
The main thing, though, is the humor in this book. Critics use the phrase Laugh Out loud funny, and they're rarely right, but this one truly is. There were points where my fiancee came into my bedroom to ask what I was laughing about.
I've taught writing on the high school level for a little more than a dozen years and, if it weren't for some of the sexual content, I probably would assign it for seniors. But probably I'll just recommend it to them as a book to read after they've graduated. As for anyone else over 18, I would recommend this book without reservation.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting characters, but poor story
I was actually interested in every character of Langer's, but their stories were a little too 'real-life' if I may. It was if I was reading about a normal highschool experience. Read more
Published on Dec 1 2011 by SBuckle
4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable and quite different
I liked this book very much. I felt as if the author were trying to capture some heady California "idea" with the style and pacing of the writing. Read more
Published on July 28 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars I don't get it!
I had read that this book was supposed to be the "best summer fiction book of 2004". I was eagerly awaiting this highly touted book. What a disappointment! Read more
Published on July 18 2004 by DSP
5.0 out of 5 stars Very Impressive
I've rarely seen such impeccable character creation. It puts me in mind of Philip Roth. In Langer's case, plot is secondary; the motivation of the characters entirely propels the... Read more
Published on July 15 2004
5.0 out of 5 stars Not California, but Chicago
I'll wager many will buy this book thinking it's going to be about California. Not. It's set in Chicago. But I'll also wager that they won't regret their purchase. Read more
Published on July 3 2004 by Peggy Vincent
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant and fun
Crossing California really takes you back to the malaise era of Jimmy Carter and Iranian hostage-taking. Read more
Published on July 2 2004 by Mary St. Clair
5.0 out of 5 stars poignant and hilarious retrospective
Since I grew up just SW of the book's neighborhood, as I was savoring every episode of these complicated characters, I kept asking myself if the book's delight was primarily in its... Read more
Published on June 27 2004 by Andrea Schuver
2.0 out of 5 stars Poor writing dooms a good idea
What a disappointment. As a former resident of West Ridge (the correct name of the neighborhood setting), I was looking forward to reading this book. Read more
Published on June 23 2004 by Marty
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