In Chicago's West Rogers Park neighborhood, California Avenue divides the upper-middle class Jewish households from their middle-class counterparts—but it simultaneously functions as the unifying vein that brings the East and West side together. The intricate plots and subplots of Crossing California focus upon the doings and undoings of three Jewish-American families from 1979 to 1981.
The novel opens in November of 1979. At the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, 70 Americans have just been taken hostage. But here in Chicago, a mild-mannered widower (Charlie Wasserstrom) is struggling to raise two strong-willed teen girls . 13-year-old Jill, a budding political activist, is too caught up in worldly worries to notice that her best friend, Muley Wills, has fallen hopelessly in love with her. For Jill's 16-year-old sister, Michelle, who wants to be an actress, she's surprised to learn that the character she plays best is herself. The enterprising Muley, meanwhile, hits the streets with a video camera and a die-hard plan to win Jill's heart. In the process of capturing West Rogers Park on film, Muley lands a job on a radio show and inspires his depressive, lonely mother (Deirdre) to complete her English degree and secure a teaching job.
"Young Town Kids," the radio show that airs Muley's weekly monologues, also features the talents of 13-year-old Lana Rovner, a sheltered perfectionist with cutthroat ambitions. Lana's brother, Larry, is a high school senior and self-dubbed “Jerusarockstar” with an endless repertoire of three-chord bedroom ballads about love, sex, and Zionism. The Rovner household is headed by the unhappily married Ellen and Michael. After dissolving marital misery with a divorce, Ellen jets off to Paris and Michael heads to Hawaii with his new flame—a woman who happens to be both Lana's therapist and Ellen's colleague. Larry consoles himself by recording a demo and romancing Michelle Wasserstrom, while Lana masters the arts of manipulation, lying, and shoplifting.
Back on the other side of California, Michelle Wasserstrom is busy fending off the advances of both Larry Rovner and her high school drama teacher. Charlie Wasserstrom falls in love with and marries Gail Schiffler-Bass, the star reporter of a local newspaper. On California Avenue, the Wasserstroms, Rovners, and Wills salvage humor and insight from a web of happenstance encounters, struggling to make sense of the world-at-large through the microcosm of West Rogers Park.
This report prepared by Tracie Amirante