The overarching setting for Criss Cross is Seldem, a small Midwestern town. The town feels small and suburban but readers are never quite told precisely where Seldem is or the year it takes place (although the textual references to popular music and technology would indicate no later than the mid-1970s). However, in sharp contrast to the geographical vagueness, the emotional and interpersonal settings are captured in precise details. When Hector goes to the basement of the Presbyterian church for his guitar lessons, for example, Perkins provides many striking details. When Lenny goes into his family’s basement with his father to retrieve a broken washing machine, the picture comes into sharp relief.
As a general rule, the more emotionally important the setting is to the characters and to their transformations, the more specifically and vividly the setting is realized. The characters do not think about the actual year because it plays little or no role in their emotional landscapes. However, the dimensions of the Lenny’s truck’s front seat are both physically precise and emotionally flexible. Only three people can fit, but the meaning of that space varies markedly according to who is there, where they are sitting, what time of day or night it is, and so on.
The two things that come through clearly about Seldem are its small size and the related factor of how close everyone is to everyone else. The teens in this novel can walk everywhere, and what is more, they have walked everywhere in Seldem. The non-Catholics discuss what happens at the Catholic church; it is both an accepted part of their world and a kind of entertainment that is taken for granted. Seldem feels intensely known, and part of what gives readers this sensation is the way that seemingly independent actions by characters continually bump into one another. Whether it is two groups meeting by accident at the Tastee-Freez, or Debbie and Patty seeing Hector run by with a bag of garbage from the routine, these characters overlap. Finally, then, Seldem is less a place than this specific set of people and the places where they interact.