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“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.”
—Publishers Weekly

“Langer delivers a rapidly consumable sequel to his hit debut novel, Crossing California (2004), a tale of early 1980s Chicago. Here Langer follows the post-high-school paths of his smart, searching, and sweetly tough characters, especially the sharp-tongued, aspiring actress, Michelle; her brainy and cautious journalist-in-the-making sister, Jill; and experimental filmmaker and potential artistic genius, Muley. Langer's title refers to the years during which the late, great Harold Washington served as Chicago's first African American mayor, but for all his pinpointing of historical moments and race issues, Langer is not a novelist of deep social or political thought. Instead, his forte is creating sensitive and endearing characters and embroiling them in intriguingly stressful and ultimately instructive predicaments involving sex, art, loyalty, and moral dilemmas. Some of the best scenes in this altogether smart, fresh, and busy novel take place not in Chicago but in Poughkeepsie, New York, where Jill attends Vassar and spars with her irascible grandmother. Readers of Langer's emotionally intense first novel may find this a glossier work, but it is plenty involving, worthy, and fun.”
More than a year and a half has passed since Jill Wasserstrom tried to catch up to Muley Wills in West Rogers Park. Now, they are high school students in love, but will their relationship survive as their world expands beyond the boundaries of West Rogers Park? Over the course of five years-from 1982 to 1987-Jill, Muley, and their families and friends will experience love, betrayal, re-unions, sex, death, and rebirth. They will live through years of triumph and despair-the deaths of Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko and the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev; the death of the Chicago political machine and the rise and fall of Harold Washington; the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger and the arrival of Halley's Comet. They will travel from Chicago to Cape Canaveral, Florida, to New York, Europe, and beyond. And once again, Jill and Muley will find themselves on a street corner in a very different Chicago from the one they first knew.

The Story Behind The Story

“Thus the Lord scattered them from there over the face of the whole Earth:
And they stopped building the city.” —Genesis 11:10

“The universe is expanding!” —Alvy Singer, Annie Hall
When I was growing up in the small, Jewish enclave of West Rogers Park on the north side of Chicago, my universe, like that of most every child, was exceedingly small. A six-block hike to Ner Tamid Synagogue seemed a nearly impossible venture; one only crossed California Avenue with the aid of a police officer or patrol boy. Over time, my universe expanded, growing to encompass the city of Chicago, the state of Illinois, then America, and, when my fiancée was living in Germany, practically the entire world. Or so it seemed. But whenever I return to West Rogers Park to visit my parents, who still live in the same home they’ve owned for forty-three years, I suddenly feel the universe contracting again until it sometimes feels as if it’s no bigger than the one I knew as a child.

In writing The Washington Story, I have been consumed with this idea of an expanding and contracting notion of place, of the worlds that are contained within larger worlds. In my previous novel, Crossing California, I chose to study a very circumscribed location, that of West Rogers Park, and the borders that existed within it. With the new novel, I have decided to explore the world as it expands beyond this small neighborhood.

The Washington Story is set over a five-year period and the structure of the novel is inspired by the five books of Moses, which are also, in part, a story of Diaspora. The novel concerns assimilation, the place of the Jew within the expanding universe, the relationships between Jews and African-Americans, and those among conservative, orthodox, reconstructionist, and non-practicing Jews. It begins on November 10, 1982, when Harold Washington announces his candidacy to become the first black mayor of Chicago, and ends on November 24, 1987, the day of Mayor Washington’s untimely death. Between ’82 and ‘87, many events of historical significance took place—most notably, the twilight of the Soviet Union: the deaths of Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko, and the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev. But I most associate this era with Harold Washington, whom I dutifully researched as a 15-year-old Chicago Magazine intern in 1982. In the heart of the Reagan era, Washington represented a force for change and unity in times of race and class struggle, and was the flashpoint for a citywide controversy as Chicago debated between electing its first black mayor or its first Jewish mayor, Bernard Epton. The Washington Story is not a book about Harold Washington, Bernie Epton, nor any other historical figure or incident. It comprises five books about characters whose worlds are in the process of expanding or contracting, set against the historical backdrop of the mid-1980’s.

Book I (Eruv, or Jill and Muley’s Book of Boundaries), is set predominantly in West Rogers Park during Harold Washington’s contentious first campaign, when high school junior Jill Wasserstrom, a fifteen-year-old Maoist who donated all of her Bat Mitzvah money to charity, experiences two love affairs: one in her neighborhood with a young African-American and one beyond its borders with a lapsed Catholic. In Book II (Be-Midbar, or Mel and Michelle’s Book of Choices), the world expands to encompass the entire city of Chicago from October 1983 (when the south side White Sox lost the American League Championship Series) to October 1984 (when the north side Cubs lost the National League Championship Series). In this book, 19-year-old white actress Michelle Wasserstrom and 36-year-old black filmmaker Mel Coleman fall in love during the making of a gangster flick exploring the tension between Chicago’s north and south side underworlds. Book III (Shemot, or Jill and Becky’s Book of Exodus), concerns Jill Wasserstrom’s eventful freshman year of college as Jill leaves West Rogers Park behind to study in her late mother’s hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York, where she hopes to reunite with her grandmother whom she hasn’t seen in a decade, and where her roommate Bibi Eisenstadt becomes involved with a Gentile grad student. The boundaries in Book IV (Kaddish, or Muley and Hillel’s Book of Mourning) expand into the celestial realm, beginning in Chicago with the first appearance of Halley’s Comet in 76 years, journeying to Cape Canaveral, Florida, and ending with the first anniversary of the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger; these events inspire film projects conceived by Art Institute student Muley Scott Wills who finds himself at odds with his hypochondriacal roommate Hillel Levy following a tragedy involving Muley’s father. In Book V (Aliyah, or Jill and Rachel’s Book of Homecoming), the expanding world begins to contract—from the heavens above to Europe, then finally back to Chicago, where five-year-old Rachel Wasserstrom waits in vain for her sister to return home from Germany for the family’s last Thanksgiving in West Rogers Park, thus completing the cycle.

I distinctly remember the evening of November 24, 1987. I was sitting in the backseat of my girlfriend’s father’s car; he was driving us to Hartford, Connecticut, where I would celebrate my first Thanksgiving outside of Chicago, my first with a non-Jewish family. We were on a dark stretch of highway and we had been listening to a song by Joe Jackson from the album Night and Day when the news came on: Harold Washington had died of a heart attack at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. I remembered having heard about other tragedies—in 1976, when Mayor Daley died, I was in my parents’ den, watching the movie How to Steal a Million; in 1980, I was in my childhood bedroom when my mother woke me to tell me John Lennon had been shot. This time, in 1987, it felt strange that I was no longer in a safe, familiar place seemingly protected from the events of the outside world, that I was no longer home, But then again, my definition of home was changing—my universe had expanded, for better and for worse.



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Paperback: 512 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Trade
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1594482187
ISBN-13: 978-1594482182

Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Riverhead Hardcover
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1573223247
ISBN-13: 978-1573223249

Copyright © 2008 Adam Langer. All rights reserved.