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City on Fire: A novel Hardcover – October 13, 2015
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An Amazon Best Book of October 2015: Find a comfortable chair, a lamp, and mix yourself a Manhattan, because this book is going steal your time and throw you into the swirling mayhem of 1970s New York City – where the lives of the wealthy, punks, artists, cops, anarchists, and fleeing teens collide – and you are not going to want it to end. Garth Risk Hallberg has not only written one of the most anticipated debuts of the year, but has done so with enormous ambition and giddy success. Told through multiple perspectives, Hallberg’s novel reveals a vast and varied web of characters whose lives intertwine around a shooting and the New York City blackout of 1977. This is a novel of America, of hopes and dreams, of old money a la F. Scott Fitzgerald, of families and rebellion and how “no matter what you deserve, how far you run, your fate stays stuck to your heels.” Rendered with cinematic detail and crisp-cracking prose, Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire is electric. --Al Woodworth
“City on Fire, by Garth Risk Hallberg: Dickensian, massively entertaining, as close to a great American novel as this century has produced.” —Stephen King
“The year’s most exciting fiction debut . . . A book that is truly that great, rare thing: a wholly inhabitable universe, reflecting back our lives while also offering an exhilarating escape from them.” —Rolling Stone
“City on Fire is a spectacular debut.” —Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven
“City on Fire is a big, stunning first novel and an amazing virtual reality machine, whisking us back to New York City in the 1970s with bravura swagger and style and heart . . . The ghosts of New York memorialized by earlier writers—F. Scott Fitzgerald, J. D. Salinger, Richard Price—hover over City on Fire. At the same time, the novel’s ambition and Dickensian storytelling ardor will remind many readers of Donna Tartt’s dazzling The Goldfinch, while its fuel-injected prose and nimble stacking of plot complications will recall for others Martin Amis’s classic portrait of Gotham in Money. But this novel is defiantly and indelibly Hallberg’s own: a symphonic epic that reaches a crashing crescendo during the blackout of July 13, 1977 . . . [In] Hallberg’s XXL tool kit as a storyteller: a love of language and the handsprings he can make it perform; a bone-deep knowledge of his characters’ inner lives that’s as unerring as that of the young Salinger; an instinctive gift for spinning suspense. He also possesses a journalistic eye for those telling details that can trigger memories of the reader’s own like small Proustian grenades . . . A novel of head-snapping ambition and heart-stopping power—a novel that attests to its young author’s boundless and unflagging talents.” —Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
“Dazzling . . . City on Fire is an extraordinary performance . . . Hallberg inhabits the minds of whites and blacks, men and women, old and young, gay and straight with equal fidelity . . . making every one of them thrum with real life . . . And what endlessly fascinating characters they are! . . . [The novel’s] Whitmanesque arms embrace an entire city of lovers and strivers, saints and killers.” —Ron Charles, Washington Post
“A singular achievement . . . The story engages from the first page.” —Entertainment Weekly
“An uncommon pleasure . . . It’s easy to understand the excitement. City on Fire is an epic and absorbing novel.” —USA Today
“Profoundly illuminating . . . Timeless . . . Hallberg ties these characters’ fates together with an artful intricacy that is truly remarkable.” —Seattle Times
“A probing look at New York City in the mid-1970s. The plot winds and twists through just about every corner of the city . . . And all this amid the blinding light of love, in a great midsummer blackout.” —Scott Simon, NPR/Weekend Edition
“Locating the best of times within the worst of times is no mean trick, especially in a historical novel where the history is recent enough that many readers remember firsthand just how bad those times were. That’s the delicate and ultimately moving balancing act that Garth Risk Hallberg pulls off in City on Fire . . . His talent is as conspicuous as the book’s heft. There’s rarely a less than finely honed sentence or a moment when you don’t feel that a sophisticated intelligence is at work . . . [The climax] is a tour de force.” —Frank Rich, New York Times Book Review
“Spectacular . . . New York City in the 1970s comes pulsingly alive . . . The book clearly reflects the work of an exciting new talent.” —People
“City on Fire is a novel of connection, forgiveness, and empathy . . . Skillfully drawn and beautifully shaded.” —A.O. Scott, GQ
“Captivating . . . It’s immediately apparent that this is a writer who knows how to do suspense. You’re soon zipping through Hallberg’s vividly realized New York like a child discovering Hogwarts for the first time. Every sentence has been carefully crafted by a literary sensibility in thrall to punk and Balzac, yet it’s unpretentious and funny.” —The Times (UK)
“Gorgeous . . . deeply felt . . . Hallberg is such a natural writer . . . No matter where you come from, who you love or what you do, you can slip into the skin of (almost) any one of his characters and feel the world like a real, round, and living thing closing its fist around you . . . It really is amazing.” —Jason Sheehan, NPR.org
“Hallberg writes with style and sophistication about everything from urban decay and punk rock to domestic terrorism and the dissolution of the nuclear family, seamlessly melding disparate character arcs, and deploying a host of storytelling modes in the process . . . It’s exciting to see a writer start his career with such an extravagant display of talent and assurance.” —San Francisco Chronicle
“To a person who did live in New York in the nineteen-seventies—to wit, this person—Hallberg’s powers of evocation are uncanny . . . It’s not the facts that bring the nineteen-seventies to life in City on Fire. What Hallberg is after is an atmosphere, and he gets it.” —Louis Menand, The New Yorker
“Poetic, expansive, and ingeniously plotted . . . It’s the very dissonance between Hallberg’s ornate structure of storytelling and his out-of-control subject that’s part of the jarring allure of City on Fire.” —Maureen Corrigan, NPR/Fresh Air
“The book’s lifeblood is its almost sociological look at the clashes of culture and wealth that threaten to engulf the city whole, and Hallberg’s characters, who manage to unearth moments of hope and connection amid such impending calamity. It is in these small glimpses of humanity that the book becomes as big as its author’s ideas.” —Esquire
“Extraordinarily well-written . . . pitch-perfect . . . [The book] is undeniably mimetic of Golden Age TV. But City on Fire can equally be seen as a challenge to contemporary television: Everything you can do I can do better.” —The Atlantic
“Too good to miss . . . There’s humorous description; thought-provoking aperçus; sharp dialogue and emotional grit.” —Spectator (UK)
“Thrilling . . . brings gritty 1970s Manhattan to life . . . A kind of punk Bleak House . . . An exuberant, Zeitgeisty New York novel, like The Bonfire of the Vanities, The Emperor’s Children, or The Goldfinch.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue
“Dazzling . . . Beautifully choreographed . . . Hallberg’s taken what seems like an all-American crime thriller and turned it into a literary epic.” —Independent
“A debut of remarkable promise . . . There is prose in City on Fire as transporting as any you’re likely to see in a book in the next ten years.” —The Guardian
“Stunning . . . A weave of multiple storylines that humanize and vividly evoke [New York in the ‘70s] with effortless authenticity. Like Jonathan Franzen and Michael Chabon, Hallberg is brilliant at communicating the special energy of Manhattan. Unlike them, however, he paints on a much broader canvas. And the emotions run deep . . . City on Fire has the scope of a classic Russian novel.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
“Garth Risk Hallberg has written the kind of debut novel that only comes around once every 20 years or so—one that everyone who’s read it roots for . . . An edge-of-your-seat epic, which is as tightly told as it is ambitious.” —Elle
“There is an extraordinary romantic nostalgia for an imagined New York that colours the air of the novel, and calls to mind Jonathan Lethem’s masterful Fortress of Solitude and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay . . . The language is lapidary.” —Observer (UK)
“Warm and generous . . . Beautifully written, fantastically plotted—suspenseful and moving and full of interesting people and ideas. It’s a book written to create communion between reader and writer . . . contemporary and fresh.” —Lydia Kiesling, The Millions
“A soaring debut . . . Over the course of Hallberg’s magisterial epic, distinctions of class, race, geography, and generation give way to an impression of the human condition that is both ambitious and sublime.” —Vanity Fair
“City on Fire weaves a web through 1970s New York City, flashing forward and back, and uptown and downtown, with cinematic flair . . . It’s Clue meets legendary music club CBGB, but Hallberg elevates his whodunit with poignancy." —TIME
“The novel immerse[s] the reader in a city that has yet to evolve from gritty to gentrified . . . a city that is scummy and at breaking point but also alive with possibility.” —Financial Times
“Engrossing . . . When the city goes dark, [it] is like A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Manhattan edition . . . As in the fiction of Saul Bellow, Hallberg’s heroes are theorists of their own universe . . . Every ley line is a life story, every subplot a window on a New York niche . . . The story itself is dramatic, intermixing a police procedural with a terrorist plot, an addiction plot, an art plot, various adultery plots . . . The result is a narrative that is immense." —Bookforum
“Gasp-inducing . . . A novel that word by word reaches out to capture the smallness of life, the minute particularity that stacks up until—whoa, baby—you’ve got a whole universe on your hands.” —The Rumpus
“Good news for the American novel: City on Fire lives up to the hype. It’s a sprawling, deeply lived-in, thoroughly accessible fresco in the tradition of Dickens.” —Dallas Morning News
“Like the work of other literary masters (Don DeLillo, David Foster Wallace, and Donna Tartt are just a few of the novelists worth drawing comparisons to) this is a book that will endure.” —Bookpage
“Exciting, imaginative, and perfectly paced . . . Astounding.” —The Telegraph (UK)
“A nostalgic, keenly observed book, one that understands how, for all its graffiti-sprayed vastness, for all its teeming, sooty chaos, New York is a lonely city.” —More magazine
“Absorbing . . . Astounding . . . Hallberg does a masterful job of getting inside the characters’ minds . . . The real power of the book is the unfolding web of relationships that curve and bend, revealing new facets and connections that roil through the chapters with unending surprise.” —Jackson Clarion-Ledger (MS)
“Immersive . . . Impressively diverse . . . Fascinating . . . As you give yourself over to the spell of City on Fire, you’ll appreciate that any shorter and less intricately constructed work wouldn’t have done justice to the ambition and power of Hallberg’s transfixing vision.” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Hallberg comes as close to the great New York City novel as any I’ve read in my lifetime . . . He’s so masterful at describing the city, at perfectly dreaming it for us, that it does exactly what great literature can do: stand up as accurate even as it knocks us over with its beauty . . . City on Fire is one of those rare big novels that actually succeeds on a micro level; every sentence is a song.” —Interview magazine
“Readers will be swept along by the suspenseful tale, whizzing through pages without speed bumps.” —The Economist
“A great American novel . . . Hallberg’s novel is a commingling of F. Scott Fitzgerald, J. D. Salinger, and Tom Wolfe. There is even some salt and pepper from McInerney and Pynchon . . . Excellent.” —Paste magazine
“Definitely a compelling read.” —Daily Mail
“Intoxicating . . . A singular work of art . . . It could easily support another hundred pages. That’s right. City on Fire—all 900-plus pages of it—is, if anything too short.” —The Herald (Scotland)
“Epic, well-written, and highly entertaining . . . Throughout, Hallberg expertly handles the multiple shifts in perspective, vibrantly portraying a specific time and place and creating memorable characters.” —Library Journal (starred)
“Completely engrossing . . . This magnificent first novel is full to bursting with plot, character, and emotion, all set within an exquisitely grungy 1970s New York City . . . Graceful in execution, hugely entertaining, and most concerned with the longing for connection, a theme that reaches full realization during the blackout of 1977, this epic tale is both a compelling mystery and a literary tour de force." —Booklist (starred)
“A remarkably assured, multivalent tale . . . an epic panorama of musicians, writers, and power brokers and the surprising ways they connect . . . At times the novel feels like a metafictional tribute to America’s finest doorstop manufacturers, circa 1970 to the present: Price (street-wise cops), Wolfe (top-tier wealth), Franzen (busted families), Wallace (the seductions of drugs and pop culture), and DeLillo (the unseen forces behind everything) . . . As his various plotlines braid tighter during the July 1977 blackout, his novel becomes an ambitious showpiece for just how much the novel can contain without busting apart.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
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I happen to have gone to college in New York city during the years of 1975-1979 when a good portion of the book takes place. This author has been able to evoke the time and place so well that I felt as though I was 18 and living in NYC again. . There is no doubt that this debut author took a huge risk and made mistakes along the way. City on Fire is a complex, sweeping novel full of carefully researched detail. The characters that the story revolves around are eclectic, realistic and for the most part engaging. It is unfortunately overlong and it is over plotted. At 550 pages this may have been the masterpiece that critics are hailing, at 913 pages there was much too much padding and tangled histories of the characters to dredge through. At times some of the chapters felt forced, as though the author was grappling for themes and content that were not necessary. I believe that this author was unable to part with a single story line or word, and that he poured his heart and soul into these pages, so someone at Knopf should have tried harder during the editing process.
A shooting in Central Park on New Year's Eve becomes the mystery that all the individuals' stories revolve around and which are eventually linked together by. We share this journey with a wide array of characters of all ages, from all walks of life, who are in love with the city. While deserving of a 5 star review for creativity, beautiful writing and compelling characters, the unnecessarily long and inconsequential tangents unfortunately make it a 3 star read.
MAN I have been looking forward to reading this since 2013, when the auction was held. I am such a sucker for big epic novels. I literally shrieked with excitement when I got hold of the manuscript.
Look, in terms of the book itself, comparisons have been made to DeLillo and Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, and granted, I don't love any of those guys - so maybe this book was not for me right from the start. And Mr. Hallberg can definitely write. He has a way of creating a scene where you feel like you are actually right there, almost living it alongside the characters. The "HBO Box Set" comparison is apt. He creates a very precise world of New York City in the 1970s that is so tangible you feel like you're watching it on TV, or in a movie theater, not reading it on a page. It's seriously impressive.
In many ways, this book is written like a checklist of "how to appeal to the stereotypical publishing literary elite." It takes place in the 70s. There are rich people who reject their wealth and feel disenfranchised. There are poor people scraggling for their place in the world. There are older men having affairs with teenage girls. There are obscure (fictitious) punk rock bands. And drugs. Many drugs. Most important, everyone takes themselves VERY VERY seriously. I don't think anyone in this book has a sense of humor. It all feels like a book written for editors, and for publishing houses, not for readers. There's craft here, but there's not much passion, or joy. (I don't mean joy as in Pollyanna happiness. I mean the sense of joy you get whenever you read a great story that the author is telling with energy and skill.) And with each page that turned, my heart sank, a little bit.
It's one thing to know the backstory of the book - the sale at auction, the huge advance, the industry buzz. It's another thing to be more than 100 pages into the book and still more interested in how this book was published than in the story itself. And no matter how long I read, I just couldn't get invested. It all felt constructed, and forced. I didn't care about the characters. I wasn't interested in the story. I found myself making up excuses to read something else, instead of getting back to this.
It was a big disappointment. I was almost disappointed in myself, for not loving it. But I finally had to admit, 200 pages in, I just didn't want to keep going. Like I said, I'm not a fan of DeLillo or Pynchon or David Foster Wallace's fiction (love his essays). So I might not be the target audience. And if you love those guys, then give this one a try. But for me, the story inside the pages was never as good as the backstory, and I finally let it go.