READ: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

I spent 20 days in November reading one gigantic book. 900 pages. A huge novel that critics called Dickens-like and a HBO-type drama. Hallberg’s first novel City on Fire has been on my radar for the last year ever since I read that there was a bidding war for it that resulted in a 2 million dollar payday.

City on Fire will make you feel like you need a long, hot shower with lots of soap. It is a crime mystery set in the dirty, gritty world of New York City in 1977. A city full of drugs, punk, crime, art, and loud music; as well as Wall Street and old money. Chapters alternate between different characters that include a weary detective, a troubled writer, misfit teenagers, a drug-addicted punk-rock artist and his lover, a heiress, a creepy businessman, a cheating husband, and more. All of these characters are lost and holding onto secrets. They are searching for meaning and a sense of belonging in the rough, yet electric and exhilarating New York City…cue Alicia Keys singing Empire State of Mind

Concrete jungle where dreams are made of,
There’s nothing you can’t do,
Now you’re in New York,
These streets will make you feel brand new,
The lights will inspire you,
Let’s hear it for New York, New York, New York

While I read it, I kept listening to Patti Smith (especially Horses and Paths that Cross) and I wanted to re-read Just Kids. Late 1970’s New York is the absolute star of this novel. This quote gives you an idea of the overall tone of City on Fire:
Diet pills have always been Ziegler’s secret for getting through four hours on air, but these days he lets them blast him right out of the broadcast booth at the end of the show and into the shift bars south of Times Square where you can be drunk before noon. Sometimes, early evenings, there comes a point where the speed wears off and he feels the meter running, but his sleep deficit is already so far beyond anything he’ll ever be able to earn back that he figures he might as well pop another pill, have another drink, because what’s another hour at the bar in the face of a million hours? What’s a little hangover in the face of the infinite grave.

The book is composed of 7 sections separated by snippets from letters, emails, fanzines, and other narrative devices. The last section culminates during the New York City blackout in the summer of 1977. I’ve been in 2 large blackouts (Northeast Blackout in August 2003 and San Diego in 2011). They were weird experiences where everyone seemed to be outside and drinking (not necessarily a bad thing!). They were very disorienting and made me feel extremely powerless because of so many uncontrollable forces. It’s a great idea to have a novel climax during a blackout.

After reading that huge, dark book (and because world events are really f%&#ing depressing right now), I needed something light and easy. I picked up Judy Blume’s latest adult novel “In the Unlikely Event.” It’s not that good, but I still read the entire book because it took me back to 6th grade when I devoured all of her books and that made me happy.

Check out these lists of the best books of 2015 to see what you’ve missed and to pick out Christmas presents… My favorite read this year was the entire Neopolitan Series – I have #ferrantefever and am so sad the series is over.

NY Times 10 Best Books

Tournament of Books

Slate

Parnassus Books

Guardian

Amazon

The Millions: A Year in Reading

Buzzfeed

Huffington Post

 

 

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1 thought on “READ: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg”

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