Who here likes musical theater? I like musical theater, but not in a “humming Rent while walking the dog” sort of way. Still, I have an appreciate for the silly songs, dance routines and simple plots that always end in a marriage knot.
If you are that “humming Rent while walking the dog” kind of person, you’ll probably appreciate Ellington Boulevard: A Novel in A-Flat by Adam Langer (to be published January 22). You’ll also get a kick out of it if you’re a dog lover, and/or if you’ve had to deal with real estate within the last five years — especially if you’ve had to deal with New York City real estate.
Maybe what I’m trying to say is that it’s a likable story that will appeal to a wide cross section of people. It’s a bit too simplistic for me to give it five out of five stars — the plot is very predictable, but this book is, after all, a novel set up around a musical theater structure, so it’s not surprising.
The story focuses on one New York City apartment in what had recently been deemed a section of the city ready for gentrification. Langer writes about the buyer, the seller, the broker, the owner, the buyer’s dog and clutch of supporting characters in a revealing point of view: the third-bordering-on-first-person with a slightly omnipotent narrator. While the focus shifts from one characters’ head into another, the reader can still read what another character is thinking.
It’s not a particularly new point of view, but one I’ve seen a lot of lately. Cathleen Schine’s The New Yorkers is the same way, using one New York City block and the dogs of select owners as the point around which the book revolves. The movie Love Actually , which has quickly become one of my favorite holiday movies, is the same, too — I’d target the airport as that axis of rotation since it’s where the movie opens and closes.
I’ll admit that I could have lived without the musical correlations in Ellington Boulevard. They were cute, but, for me, distracting (maybe not so for anyone whose musical theater experience goes beyond second tier roles in Grease and Bye Bye Birdie).
My favorite parts were when Langer wrote from inside the head of Herbie, the tenant’s dog — and will be particularly touching if you’ve ever owned a dog who someone else got rid of. I laughed at the dog’s thoughts of how he gets through gaps when his owner is not home, and his thoughts when processing familiar and new smells. I couldn’t help but think of my pup, who snoozed on my chest while I finished the book and who, like Herbie, was abandoned and, I hope, feels at home now.
A lot of the people, too, in Ellington Boulevard have been abandoned, either by their lovers, their spouses, their job, their dreams or the city itself. It’s not the kind of book someone who wants to go to New York to ‘make it big’ will want to read — Ellington Boulevard is almost a precautionary tale against it, though the book also shows that not all is lost if the original dream is. Sometimes it’s the revised goals that are the better fit.
After reading so much non-fiction, it was nice to get lost in a novel for a while. I read the bulk of Ellington Boulevard on Christmas day, which has long been a favorite habit of mine for December 25. I’m not sure what I’ll read next — I have three titles on top of my “to read” pile — but I can tell you this: it isn’t for an assignment. Not that I don’t like assignments, but sometimes it’s nice to be able to reach into a pile and pick whatever strikes my fancy…