Elling­ton Boule­vard: A Nov­el in A‑Flat

  • Review
By – March 5, 2012

If you love New York City, chances are you’ll adore Elling­ton Boule­vard, a nov­el by the author of the crit­i­cal­ly acclaimed Cross­ing Cal­i­for­nia and its sequel, The Wash­ing­ton Sto­ry. The Elling­ton referred to in the title is none oth­er than the Duke him­self, along with the street named after him, plus the fact that Langer gave his new book the sub­ti­tle, A Nov­el in A‑flat” which tells you even before you crack open the cov­er that there will be plen­ty of music not only in the sto­ry but in the lan­guage in which it is so deft­ly written. 

Like many New York sto­ries, both fac­tu­al and fic­tion­al, this one revolves around real estate, with char­ac­ters that ulti­mate­ly remind us of our best — and worst — selves. There’s the musi­cian who is about to be evict­ed from his Upper West Side roost, for exam­ple. The land­lord, a new­ly mar­ried recent­ly recov­ered alco­holic who has just dis­cov­ered he has a Jew­ish soul. A poten­tial buy­er for the apart­ment, a mag­a­zine edi­tor, who falls in love with the musician. 

Cross­ing paths and dou­ble-cross­ing each oth­er, and the rest of the live­ly cast, makes for a fun­ny and poignant ode to a city in the throes of a real estate boom whose pro­por­tions, pit­falls, and pow­er to mag­ni­fy love have nev­er been seen quite like this before.


by Lin­da F. Burghardt

How long does it take to write a nov­el? About a year in front of the com­put­er,” says Adam Langer, but a life­time to gath­er the expe­ri­ences that go into it.” Some of the charm in Elling­ton Boule­vard comes from the fact that it is writ­ten from mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives: not only that of the col­or­ful main char­ac­ters, but the dog that’s fea­tured promi­nent­ly in the book too. Langer says he writes with music, and one way he gets into the char­ac­ters’ minds is to play the music he thinks they would like while he’s writ­ing from their point of view.

In addi­tion to being a nov­el­ist, Langer is also a jour­nal­ist and a play­wright, and he has the kind of nim­ble mind that enables him to work in sev­er­al gen­res at once. He’s now work­ing on a new nov­el and a non-fic­tion book at the same time. Is this con­fus­ing? Not so much,” he says, adding that the writ­ing process he uses is to fol­low his instinct, lis­ten to what the peo­ple in his book say they want to do next, and then write it up just that way.

I tend to work cin­e­mato­graph­i­cal­ly,” he said. My phi­los­o­phy is shoot, shoot, shoot. Then I look it all over and see what needs to end up on the cut­ting room floor.”

Langer says he works most­ly at home, but at the local library, on trains and planes, and in the neigh­bor­hood park as well. I aim for 1000 words a day,” he said. That can take two hours or twelve.” He is a self-taught writer, nev­er hav­ing tak­en a writ­ing class. I fig­ure out what I’m going to write next by let­ting the char­ac­ters, plot, and nar­ra­tive form them­selves. I don’t out­line; I lose inter­est if I know where the sto­ry is going. I just fol­low the flow and see where it takes me.”

Often, that means leav­ing his New York City apart­ment on, yes, Elling­ton Blvd., in what Langer says is called the upper-upper West Side” to walk his dog and talk to peo­ple in the neigh­bor­hood. When he meets peo­ple, he lis­tens to what they have to say and then imag­ines what they’ll do next. Some of them, rolled up into a com­pos­ite, may wind up in the book he’s work­ing on.

My goal, grow­ing up, was to become the first Jew­ish may­or of Chica­go, my home­town,” he said. But I’m very hap­py I became a writer.”

Lin­da F. Burghardt is a New York-based jour­nal­ist and author who has con­tributed com­men­tary, break­ing news, and fea­tures to major news­pa­pers across the U.S., in addi­tion to hav­ing three non-fic­tion books pub­lished. She writes fre­quent­ly on Jew­ish top­ics and is now serv­ing as Schol­ar-in-Res­i­dence at the Holo­caust Memo­r­i­al & Tol­er­ance Cen­ter of Nas­sau County.

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