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Crossing California by Adam Langer

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Review Excerpts

Charleston Post and Courier – August 8, 2004
“Crossing California, Adam Langer's smart, crowded and often funny debut novel, centers on the intersecting lives of three Chicago families from Nov. 4, 1979 to Jan. 20, 1981, the exact dates of the hostage crisis in Iran… While the hostage crisis background might suggest certain automatic themes… he gives us a medley of perspectives and a range of dependencies… On this packed stage, as characters intersect and diverge, we come to see how much one person can mean to another. Langer's achievement is to make them matter to us.”

Los Angeles Times - July 25, 2004
“Extraordinary… Langer's project [is] audacious, pursuing, as it does with nearly adolescent zeal, the project of re-creating West Rogers Park, a far-north Chicago neighborhood, in the years 1979 to 1981. Crossing California… is panoramic in its scope and snapshot-like in its detail…
The period that Langer conjures up, straddling the addled idealism of the 1970s and the winner-takes-all 1980s, was, arguably, the last major turning point in American life. In this rich saga worthy of Philip Roth and Anthony Trollope, Langer has finally given us its definitive document.”
-- Mark Rozzo

Pittsburgh Post Gazette – July 18, 2004
“Reminiscent of the J.D. Salinger's Glass kids, Franny and Zooey… the adolescents presented here are brilliantly self-aware of their own shifting status but hopeful enough to believe that they can somehow save themselves… Langer's prose soars as he nails down his characters' concerns with a precision that simply stuns. This novel is a colossal story, a moving tapestry of rituals, rites of passages, boundaries and borders… [Langer’s] dazzling talents are perfectly balanced between humor and heart. Crossing California is unforgettable.”
-- Sharon Dilworth

The Times Picayune – July 13, 2004
“Adam Langer's Crossing California is pure delight…Langer's devastating humor and big heart catch the quality of daily life for these kids – their dry intelligence in the face of their parents' losses and foibles, their impatience with teachers, their heartfelt longings. He taps out the rhythms of adolescent life perfectly… Crossing California is filled with tenderness and wisdom as it surveys the '70s… The great trick of fiction [is] to make characters live on in our hearts, and Langer has proven himself a master magician.”
-- Susan Larson

Chicago Tribune – July 11, 2004
“Crossing California is the most vivid novel about Chicago since Saul Bellow's Herzog and the most ambitious debut set in Chicago since Philip Roth's Letting Go… A terrific book… recounted with exuberant verve and an ethnic humor… Adam Langer has achieved the considerable feat of writing a novel that's at once comic and bleak, and that captures, in the stalled careers and thwarted longings and failed relationships of its characters, the pathos and sadness of life.”
-- James Atlas

The Oregonian – June 20, 2004
“This is a novel of such heartfelt audacity that this reviewer feels lucky to sing its praises… [Langer’s] commitment to his cast, including the city of Chicago, is extraordinary… [and] his memory of that era, American and adolescent, is unnerving and his touch is unfailing. He provides these kids what their parents can not: unsparing attention and enduring compassion.”
-- Steve Duin

Newsday – June 20, 2004
“Adam Langer has given us a teeming, hilarious, ambitious and almost blindingly vivid portrait of a very particular Chicago… The writing is fine when Langer describes the couplings and uncouplings and professional starts and stops that plague the grown-ups. But the book is really about what it's like to survive a couple of years of adolescence… I can think of no other book that so captures the experience of being young just as Reaganism dawned… Langer has taken his astonishing wealth of memory and research and used it to create a whole roster of comic, heartbreaking, convincing characters.”
-- Claire Dederer

Entertainment Weekly (Editor’s Choice) – June 18, 2004
“In a Chicago Jewish neighborhood, Ayatollah-defending Jill Wasserstrom is dreading the bar mitzvah her recently widowed father is forcing on her.... and that’s just the beginning, as residents on both side of social-strata-dividing California Avenue brilliantly loop and intersect. In his ambitious, irresistible debut, Langer packs in more hilarious and agonizing moments than most writers manage in a lifetime.”
-- Jessica Shaw

St. Louis Post Dispatch – June 13, 2004
“This is a dense novel, given to a high amount of… detail, with layer after layer of backstory developed for a large cast of ensemble characters. What's most amazing about Langer's tendency to pack in the information is the fact that it so completely works… You’re in for a remarkable read… Langer shows teenagers as vulnerable and flawed human beings… Filled with comic elements, a deep sense of realism and a deft touch at character development, Crossing California signals Langer as a novelist well worth following.
-- Thomas Crone

San Francisco Chronicle – June 13, 2004
“Adam Langer achieves so much in this book. Perhaps his greatest achievement is his gift for presenting characters so vividly that we hear their distinct and wonderful voices, feel deeply their heartaches and desires. We grieve for their disappointments and celebrate their successes… Crossing California is serious and heartfelt; it is also laugh-out-loud funny. Langer has created a tender blend of compassion, amusement and devotion.”
-- Victoria Zackheim

People Magazine (4 Star Review, Critic's Choice) – June 7, 2004
“There isn’t much plot to this slice-of-life study, but what a heaping slice it is. Langer drills to the core of people… as deeply as Jonathan Franzen did in The Corrections, and like Franzen, Langer is going to need a trophy case. Langer deploys a photographic memory and a deadpan wit as he juggles the bat mitzvahs, feuds and hookups of ten major characters from either side of the class boundry of California Avenue during the Iran hostage crisis.”
-- Kyle Smith

Christian Science Monitor – June 1, 2004
“[Langer's] story about three Chicago families during the waning years of Jimmy Carter's presidency is brutally funny. But any fondness the fashion industry may be tempting you to feel for that goofy period is stripped away by Langer's acerbic re-creation of the era when America withered under the Iran hostage crisis, high school drug use spiked, and teenage sexual experience began to accelerate dramatically... 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

Bookpage – June 2004
“[An] epic first novel... a sprawling, deeply funny and unforgettable take on the peculiarities of suburbia. With Crossing California Langer delivers both a snapshot of American history and a timeless examination of longing and ambition. It's hard to imagine a more satisfying combination.”
-- Amy Scribner

Chicago Sun Times – May 30, 2004
“Langer's story is not shaped by one central event, but by the convergence of many intricately plotted little events, which fall together in the beautifully subdued ending, when all the characters are poised to move on. The book's hold on the reader is such, though, that we really don't want them to. Giving them up – closing the book and breaking the spell – is the worst part of this engrossing debut novel.”
-- Roger Gathman

GQ Magazine – May 1, 2004
“Langer's prose is so transporting and restorative, it makes adolescence – Jewish or otherwise –seem like an experience to be coveted. Set between 1979 and 1981, a period of political and cultural flux portrayed by Langer with anthropological exactitude, California tells the story of three disparate Chicago-area families… [Larry] is Langer's cleverest creation and the comic anchor of a beautifully executed book.”
-- Howie Kahn

Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) – April 26, 2004
“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… [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 and Dybek.”

Kirkus (Starred Review) – April 15, 2004
“Although the gloom of the time period is signaled by events like the Hostage Crisis and the 1980 presidential election… they never overwhelm the characters. Langer's gift is for layering each page with an almost obsessive level of detail – the Rogers Park streets are described with a near-geographic intensity, and the cultural references fly thick-without ever subsuming the characters, who shine brightly as they rocket into the 1980s. Of epic scope, yet intimate in its accomplishments.”
 

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