Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ellington Boulevard by Adam Langer

"Every person on the streets
of New York is a type. The city is
one big theater where everyone
is on display." - Jerry Rubin

In Ellington Boulevard Adam Langer captures the enormity of New York City while at the same time making it seem like a small town where each person is only a few people removed from knowing the others. The novel revolves around a flat and each of the characters that is inadvertantly connected to its sale during the New York City real estate boom. First, there is Ike Morphy, a jazz clarinetist who hears music in even the most mundane activities of the city, the original owner of the flat who returns from six months in Chicago nursing his sick mother to find his apartment being sold out from under him. The would-be buyers are Rebecca Sugarman, overachiever editor of the American Standard and her deadbeat English Lit graduate student husband Darrell who can't seem to muster the motivation to finish his dissertation and graduate. The seller is the son of Ike's former landlord, selfish and self-righteous Jew, Mark Masler. The broker is Josh Dybnick a failed would-be New York actor who has found that he his best and most successful acting gig has been simply being a real estate broker. These are just a taste of all the characters that inhabit this book.

Surprisingly, this overabundance of characters isn't overwhelming in the least.
This is because, despite the vast number of them, Langer fully inhabits each of his characters. In Langer's capable hand, each character evolves into a three dimensional person that readers can nearly imagine meeting on the streets of New York. They aren't all lovable or even likeable, but it's hard not to recognize their reality and their humanity. Ellington Boulevard is driven entirely by its characters and their foibles as they count down the days until closing on apartment 2B.

At its heart, Ellington Boulevard is a book about artists and dreamers and a New York City that at once attracts them with its promises of a rich environment for artists and for dreams coming true while squashing their dreams beneath the unfortunate daily realities that living there entails. Each of the characters seems to struggle with a constant push and pull between their art, their dreams, and the possibility that New York exudes and their labors under the heavy financial burden that the city exerts upon them. In Langer's New York, there is a constant question of whether people will follow their hearts or whether they will sell out to the highest bidder, and readers will wait with breath held to see which of Langer's characters will choose which path.

The only thing that took away from this book, in my opinion, was the lack of traditional dialogue. Paragraph breaks and quotations are at a minimum which makes the book a bit slow going to start because it seems very dense. Once the first few pages are past, however, any struggles stemming from Langer's non-traditional style disappear as the story takes you in. Langer's New York is beautifully rendered and filled with big characters that capture the imagination. His love for and understanding of the forces that drive New York City shine through and make Ellington Boulevard a captivating read.

He still loves the sense of possiblity that permeates every building and block. He loves the view of the Hudson from Riverside Park, loves watching the ducks paddle in the Central Park pond, loves the almost-too-pungent scent of gingkos on Manhattan Avenue in the summer. He loves watching his dog's tail wag when he pulls Ike toward Strangers' Gate. He loves the sounds of baseball games in Morningside, mah-jongg tiles on 107th Street, playing cards outside the Frederick Douglass Apartments, the subway underfoot, the flutter and clang of the flags atop the Blockhouse -- every bit of it is music.

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