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The Washington Story Hardcover – August 18, 2005

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Editorial Reviews Review

For those of us who woefully turned the last page of Crossing California, Adam Langer's masterful debut, The Washington Story offers a gratifying, if not lengthy, reunion with the people and places whose stories so engaged readers the first time around. In this tightly packed sequel, Langer revisits the same West Rogers Park neighborhood in Chicago where we first met a fascinating cast of characters, from high schoolers Muley Scott Wills, Jill and Michelle Wasserstrom, and Hillel Levy to movie producers Mel Coleman and Carl "Slappit" Silverman, whose lives continue to intertwine in ways that make this expansive novel both a delight and a challenge to fully absorb.

Like in Crossing California, time and place are as central to the story as the characters themselves. The Washington Story takes place between 1982 and 1987, and follows the political career of Chicago mayor Harold Washington, the Challenger space shuttle disaster, and the changing landscape of both an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Chicago and the world beyond its borders. From a dorm room at Vassar to a hostel in West Berlin, Langer follows his characters across the street and around the globe, observing their behavior with a sharp eye for detail and an understated yet inspired sense of humor that can be unbelievably rewarding at times. ("He would sit alone at Ponderosa, where he would eat chili and pretend to read Jack Kerouac ... though when he would return alone to his hotel room, he would put down The Dharma Bums and pick up the GMAT study guide.") At one point in Jill's college career, she wonders if she could ever be considered prettier than her starlet sister Michelle. Yet according to Langer, it's "Not that she really cared about being pretty; she mostly cared about not being ugly."

Observations like these are what make The Washington Story so much more than a simple coming-of-age tale. Rather, Langer's unpretentious style, coupled with his immense talent for storytelling, rewards readers with a sequel worthy of its predecessor. --Gisele Toueg

From Publishers Weekly

Langer's dense, sprawling follow up to Crossing California features the same ambitious clutch of high-schoolers on the cusp of Harold Washington's bid for Chicago mayor in 1982. In the Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of West Rogers Park, junior Jill Wasserstrom works as a cub reporter for the Lane Leader and entertains a crush on irreverent senior editor Wes Sullivan; Jill's usual boyfriend, Muley Wills, is in Cape Canaveral working on the space shuttle Columbia and bedding his seductive lab partner. Jill's sister, Michelle, pops in from New York to snag the lead role in Mel Coleman's film Godfathers of Soul, and embarks on a hot affair with the director, who's black, 20 years her senior and dating Muley's mother. Wes is exposed for fabricating his stories on race, and Jill heads off to Vassar, where she becomes involved with the local Miscellany News and rekindles contact with her grandmother. An eloquent final chapter, "Kaddish," takes place at the time of the Challenger liftoff and the passing of Halley's Comet, when Muley's producer father is gunned down in his studio. Though overflowing with plot lines and detail, Langer's latest is another fine portrait of an era, a city and its very human inhabitants.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover; 1st edition (August 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573223247
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573223249
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.4 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,908,052 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Dane Schulman on August 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The kids who filled the pages of Langer's debut, Crossing California (2004), with their passions, idiocies and dreams are leaving high school and stepping into the world. This second installment of their story is set during the Reagan years (1982-87). While the Iran hostage crisis served as a touchstone in Crossing California, here it's the election of Chicago's first black mayor, Harold Washington. The style is still obsessively catalog-like, page after page laying out the Chicago terrain in exhaustive detail. You could practically draw a map of the city after reading this book, not to mention know what movies were showing at the time and what music was on the radio (on what stations, even). As in Crossing California, Langer appends a glossary of terms relevant to the time period. ("Genug," by the way, is Yiddish for "enough," and "Garfield," if you don't already know, is a "cartoon cat created by Jim Davis; ubiquitous in college dorm rooms circa 1984.") Characters, of course, are what matter here most. The battling Wasserstrom sisters, Michelle and Jill, have left Chicago for NYU and Vassar, to work toward careers in acting and politics, respectively, and the quiet genius Muley Willis (the true hero of both books) attends art school in Chicago, where he develops self-destructing art installations. Meanwhile, angry rich kid Wes Sullivan vies with Muley for Jill's affections, and a pair of mismatched impresarios try to kick-start the local film industry, with a disastrous gangster flick, Godfathers of Soul. Although the novel's scope has widened to include Florida, the East Coast and even Germany, the wind-swept streets of Chicago remain at its center. One hopes that a third installment, taking us into the '90s, is not too far off. Another richly detailed and overstuffed novel, both joyful and heartbreaking.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on November 27, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
Authors who attempt sequels to successful novels risk a series of problems. Quirky or engaging characters lose their edge; intriguing conflicts become banal; what was unique appears repetitive. Happily, Adam Langer's "The Washington Story" avoids these pitfalls and emerges as a thoroughly enjoyable continuation of "Crossing California." The characters have matured (alas, the humor has evolved from prepubescent to collegiate); their conflicts mature them and the author's amazing attention to detail and nuance endures. Throughout the pages of this novel, Langer's love not only for his characters, but the human condition, invests his sequel novel with a dignity and authority cloaked adroitly in humor and satire.

Langer paints "The Washington Story" on a canvas much larger than West Rogers Park, the setting for his debut novel. Two of his adolescent characters are college-bound, and Langer follows them to New York City and Poughkeepsie, yet Chicago remains the northern star in their internal compass. Those who remain in Chicago encounter a city in transition and turmoil, its racial and class tensions bubbling in a cauldron of political change (Harold Washington's election as the first African-American mayor symbolizes the whirlwinds of a new era). Each character has his or her distinct personality; their interplay crackles with energy.

One of the consistent metaphors of the novel is space, which comes to symbolize expansion of personal universes, The mid-1980s were the years of the Challenger space shuttle and the return of Halley's Comet. Sensitive, reclusive and contemplative, Muley Wills determines to convert his dissatisfaction with traditional film into a provocative but evanescent medium.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am likely to echo at least two other reviewers on here so I won't go into much detail about this book and will instead try make this short and sweet (if that's even possible). First, I will go on the record and say that Adam Langer is a good writer despite having only read one of his books so far: Crossing California (of which The Washington Story is a sequel to). I enjoyed that book thoroughly from beginning to end. So when I saw that there was a sequel naturally I was interested and decided to buy it...despite the fact that its star rating was pretty low: three stars at the time of purchase, and I rarely buy books that a have a rating of 3.5 (or lower) out of 5 rating. I've done it before and 99% of the time ended up regretting it. But I decided to give this the benefit of the doubt…which I now regret. Anyway, unlike Crossing California which has a great story, great (and memorable) characters, great (and also memorable) dialogue, and even some great pop culture references which fit perfectly with the time period the story is set: late 1970s to early 1980s, The Washington Story tragically fails in each of those categories. The story seems forced, uninteresting, unengaging and just all around boring and forgettable. Same can be said for the characters. In Crossing California I was fully invested in everything that was happening in their lives, here, however, I found myself not really caring one way or another of what happened to them. The dialogue is also forgettable and (in my opinion) lacks the wittiness of the first book and the pop-culture references are just that: pop-culture references. Another thing worth mentioning is the structure of the story.Read more ›
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