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Adam Langer's 'Boulevard' of evolving dreams

Still the novel, set up in musical theater structure, finds harmony.

By Jen A. Miller, Special to the Times
Published January 6, 2008


New York City is a town of revised dreams - at least that's how it's portrayed in Adam Langer's Ellington Boulevard: A Novel in A-Flat. It's where idealists come with dreams of fame and fortune and either become the hunched shoulders on which the Big Apple stands, or move on to other, revised lives, for better or for worse.

A collection of those betters and worses is told around the axis of one apartment being sold on the cusp of the real estate bubble's burst. The current tenant came to the neighborhood before it was a gentrification target. The bidding couple, a literary editor and her perpetual grad student husband, hope that apartment and the promise of a child will save their teetering marriage. The broker is an actor turned real estate man who hopes that new role is the one that could change his life.

The point of view rotates among characters, which prevents the reader from getting to know any one character well. But Langer uses musical theater structure to organize the story, so it's not surprising: How well do you get to know characters between songs?

Langer writes beautifully about the city and how it is stunning and crushing at the same time.

"The city was the book they would finish writing here, the melody they would hear, the role they would finally get to play, the person they would meet, the person they would become," Langer writes in the overture. "But now that they've been here for some time, they have begun to forget the city they had come to find. They have boxed away their manuscripts, sold their books and sold their musical instruments to secondhand shops. They have become bankers, traders, corporate writers, marketing directors, Web site content providers."

But Ellington Boulevard isn't all bleak, because sometimes that revised dream is a better fit. What kind of musical would end on a depressing note?

Jen A. Miller, a frequent contributor, blogs about books at


Ellington Boulevard: A Novel in A-Flat
By Adam Langer
Spiegel & Grau, 352 pages, $24.95


[Last modified January 3, 2008, 10:33:43]

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