14 April 2008

All New York in One Apartment

I finally finished Adam Langer's ELLINGTON BOULEVARD. I didn't like it as much as his first two books, but I would definitely recommend it.

As I wrote earlier, ELLINGTON BOULEVARD centers around an apartment on West 106th Street (named for the famous musician who lived at 106th and Riverside) where a musician named Ike has been living for years on the strength of a verbal agreement with the building's owner. Now that the owner has died, his son is determined to sell off the apartments, which are located in a neighborhood of New York that has been rapidly gentrifying in the last 30 years or so. (I say that in the nicest way possible; after all, I live close by!)

Ike doesn't find out he's being displaced until a broker named Josh -- a frustrated actor who became a broker after appearing in an ad where he played a real estate broker -- is showing around a pair of potential buyers. The buyers who come to the forefront are a married couple, a frustrated graduate student and a newly minted magazine editor who want to have a kid. Meanwhile, the owner's son is having HIS own midlife crisis, trying to be an observant Jew after a lifetime of debauchery and carry on his father's legacy while still cherishing his own dreams of opening a restaurant.

ELLINGTON BOULEVARD is somewhat more plot-driven than Langer's other books, which is probably why I couldn't quite get lost in it like I did in his other books -- I was virtually unable to set down CROSSING CALIFORNIA and THE WASHINGTON STORY. Still, I enjoyed tracing all these interconnected lives and the fate of this one space that is so preeminent in their lives. For the editor, Rebecca, the apartment means they can think about having kids; for her husband, it's a symbol of his stranding mid-Ph.D and his inability to decide what he wants; for Ike, the original tenant, it represents his career in music and the toehold he has in New York.

There are also many funny Langerian asides about pop culture (the made-up titles of songs from Ike's band alone are hilarious), the city, snobbery and book publishing that really colored the book and its characters for me. I respectfully disagree with Book a Week With Jen that people who want to come to New York should not read this book; it's not a horror story, unless perhaps you are buying an apartment, and I found certain things very relatable as an urban transplant. The author has not lost anything in his transfer from '80s Chicago to noughties New York, and I'm looking forward to his next book.

Photo: professorbop

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