Synopses & Reviews
Poignant, ambitious, and tremendously fun, Crossing California
is the fiction discovery of the season a novel about two generations of family and friendship in Chicago from November 1979 through January 1981.
In 1979 California Avenue, in Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood, separates the upper-middle-class Jewish families from the mostly middle-class Jewish residents on the east of the divide. This by turns funny and heartbreaking first novel tells the story of three families and their teenage children living on either side of California, following their loves, heartaches, and friendships during a memorable moment of American history. Langer's captivating portraits, his uncanny and extraordinarily vivid re-creation of a not-so-past time and place, and his pitch-perfect dialogue all make Crossing California certain to evoke memories and longing in its readers as well as laughter and anxiety.
Whether viewed as an American Graffiti for the seventies, The (Jewish) Corrections, a Chicagoan Manhattan, or early Philip Roth for a later generation, Crossing California is an unforgettable, and thoroughly enjoyable, contribution to contemporary fiction.
"[A] brilliant debut....[Langer's] 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
." Publishers Weekly
"Langer's gift is for layering each page with an almost obsessive level of detail...without ever subsuming the characters, who shine brightly as they rocket into the 1980s. Of epic scope, yet intimate in its accomplishments." Kirkus Reviews
"A work of unusual mastery, compassion, insight and wit. What is exciting about Crossing California is not merely the scope of Adam Langer's literary ambitions, but the generous ways in which he fulfills them." Gary Shteyngart, author of The Russian Debutante's Handbook
"Adam Langer's novel is a triumph of wry observation and merciless insight a darkly comic, even bravely comic view of lust and loss, doubt, faith, and social yearning. An amazing debut by a terrifically talented writer." Elinor Lipman, author of The Pursuit of Alice Thrift
"Crossing California is one of the most vivid books ever written about coming of age in the late 1970s, and at the same time it is a portrait of Chicago that belongs up on the shelf with Dybek, Algren, and Bellow. With an anthropologist's eye for detail and a poet's heart, Adam Langer examines the lives of these all-American Jewish Chicago kids, to create a wonderfully funny, rich, and moving mosaic of a book." Dan Chaon, National Book Award-nominated author of Among the Missing and You Remind Me of Me
"[A] wickedly witty novel. [Langer]'s so good at social satire that it draws him away from what he does even better: the tender portrayal of smart, lonely people struggling to cobble together some meaning. But if the fireworks in this debut drown each other out now and then, they're launched from a storehouse of creative energy that's sure to keep dazzling us for a long time." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor
(read the entire Christian Science Monitor review
November 4, 1979
: Sixty-six hostages are taken at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. The next day at Hebrew School recess, seventh-grader Lana Rovner asks Jill Wasserstrom an impertinent question about eighth-grader Muley Scott Wills.
November 13, 1979: Ronald Reagan officially announces his candidacy for president. Mather High School junior Michelle Wasserstrom and Ida Crown Jewish Academy senior Larry Rovner whip doughnuts at passing cars in protest.
December 1979: Jimmy Carter announces his candidacy for a second term as president. Michelle Wasserstrom ditches H.M.S. Pinafore rehearsal to attend a Who concert. Charlie Wasserstrom loses his job managing the It's in the Pot! restaurant. L.A. record mogul Carl Slappit Silverman returns to Chicago to find his estranged son, Muley.
December 31, 1979: The U.N. Security Council debates a resolution condemning the Iranian hostage-takers. Larry Rovner attends the Jewish Community Center Latkafest. Jill Wasserstrom plans a mischievous Bat Mitzvah speech. Ellen Rovner accuses her husband, Michael, of infidelity. Charlie Wasserstrom goes on his first date since the death of his late wife.
January 16, 1980: Paul McCartney is arrested for marijuana possession. The topic is treated later in a long-winded sermon delivered by Rabbi Shmulevits at Jill Wasserstrom's Bat Mitzvah.
April 1980: The U.S. officially cuts off relations with Iran. Larry Rovner makes out with Michelle Wasserstrom in his basement.
July 1980: George Bush agrees to serve as Ronald Reagan's running mate. The Shah of Iran dies in exile. Larry Rovner's band appears live on stage at Chicagofest. His father Michael finds a new girlfriend in the audience. Charlie Wasserstrom remarries.
September 25, 1980: Led Zeppelin drummer John Bonham dies in his sleep. Larry Rovner appears at a Bonzofest concert at Brandeis University.
November 1980: Ronald Reagan is elected president. John Lennon and Yoko Ono release the album Double Fantasy. TV audiences learn who shot JR. Ellen Rovner boards a plane for Paris.
December 8, 1980: John Lennon is assassinated in New York. Michelle Wasserstrom insists her Mather High School class honor a moment of silence. Carl Slappit Silverman is inspired to organize a benefit concert.
January 20, 1981: The American hostages are released. Ronald Reagan is sworn in as president. Jill Wasserstrom, Lana Rovner, and Muley Scott Wills meet on the corner of North Shore and California avenues.
Hilarious, poignant, and tremendously fun, Crossing California is a novel about two generations of family and friendship in Chicago from November 1979 to January 1981.
About the Author
Adam Langer has been a senior editor of Book magazine and a recipient of a prestigious National Arts Journalism fellowship at Columbia University. He has worked extensively as a print journalist, film producer, and playwright and has been featured on NPR, CNN Headline News, Fox News, and E! Entertainment Television. Crossing California is his first novel.