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Crossing California Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; First Edition edition (June 3, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573222747
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573222747
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 6.4 x 1.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (60 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,303,477 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

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.

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.

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Customer Reviews

This is a dense book with very little dialogue.
Richard A. Mitchell
There's too much to sum up in a review, so if you're a fan of good fiction, I implore you to pick this book up and give it a try.
Jessica Lux
Crossing California is a terrific read filled with wonderful and very funny characters.
Elizabeth Hendry

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Judge Knott on June 30, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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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33 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on August 16, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Crossing California is a terrific read filled with wonderful and very funny characters. I will admit, it took me a while to get into the novel. It is a little slow at first and there is little to no actual dialogue, but mainly summaries of dialogue in long, paragraph form. The characters, however, were what ultimately won me over. They are all pretty amusing and you will see shades of yourself, and everyone you know, in many of them, which makes them somehow even funnier. The novel takes place in 1979-1981 Chicago and concerns several families living there whose lives overlap. Much happens in the novel, although there is no real plot moving the novel forward constantly, just a series of subplots, none more important than the other. I won't summarize the subplots here, others have done that more than adequately, but I will say this: Crossing California is a big funny novel about humanity, filled with warm and flawed characters you will grow to like, in spite of those flaws. If you are looking for a novel with one big story line and lots of dialogue, well, you won't like this one. If that's not important to you and if you enjoy novels with excellent, keenly observed characters, pick up Crossing California. It is a great read.
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46 of 56 people found the following review helpful By Peggy Vincent on July 3, 2004
Format: Hardcover
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. Adam Langer's book is epic in its sprawl and its sometimes insane attention to detail and the minutiae of his characters' lives, but it spans a period of only 2-3 years (1979 - 1981). Focusing primarily on the members of 3 families who live on one side or another of California Ave, the street that divides a Jewish neighborhood into those of the upper middle class from those of the mostly working class, the book allows us to see all aspects of that important time in America's 20th century through the eyes of a group of teenagers who come together, drift apart, and come together again in a different mix.
Really, really, really, really good.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Jon Rich on February 8, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I have to conceed that I have a large bias here, I grew up in Rogers Park (both East and West) in the late 70's and 80's - so I am intimately familiar with all the streets, shops, and locations that Langer refrences. Moving past the feelings of nostalgia that the author conjured in me, by simply referencing the hangouts of my youth - I did not grow up Jewish - and so while the location is familiar the characters are not... and this is a fantastic book about characters and their development. Using the time constraint of the Hostage crisis to frame his story line, Langer tells the stories of a variety of jr. high / high school kids and their parents that are all in various states of transistion -- much like the country was in from the period of the late 70's into the early 80's.

Other reviewers have made note of the fact that they feel each of the characters seems a bit cliche or stereo typed, and while I think that on the surface some of their struggles seem stereotypical - I would argue no more so than the challenges we actually face when in the process of transistion ourselves. High School are years often times filled with inexplicable angst,fear, and longing - and the need to define ourselves or in some cases to defy our established roles... I thought it was a humorous, gentile, and well written story - no matter your background.
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