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City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
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City on Fire

by Garth Risk Hallberg

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Showing 1-5 of 31 (next | show all)
I'm still pondering City on Fire. It's one of those books that stays with you. I go back to it and look up some of the symbolism such as the meaning of the flocks of pigeons. It's a story with many themes: vengeance is way up there, reconciliation, forgiveness, acceptance about who you are, tolerance. And it all takes place in NYC on the eve of what begins as a revolution, a fight against "the man". But we find there really is no "man". The police are actually kind. The richest of the rich are kind hearted and generous. The punk rockers beginning the revolution appear to be just teenagers in the throes of adolescent misery and love and drugs. A death in the park sparks a turning point that threatens to senselessly destroy many lives. What we learn in the end is there are really just a few bad people in the world, not an entire organized culture against whom to rebel. The characters are richly described and the author's vivid descriptions of the City make one feel she is there, living in the streets. It is a beautiful book. ( )
  ErinDenver | Jun 12, 2017 |
stopped on page 525 - will finish later
  mmreed | Feb 4, 2017 |
A massive, near stream-of-consciousness, tome twisting the story of a number of characters through the mid 1970s culminating in events on the night of the 1977 blackout. ( )
  wmnch2fam | Sep 7, 2016 |
A dozen characters. Back stories, side stories, up stories, down stories. You know more about them than you do yourself after the 900 plus pages. Balanced characters: rich poor. north south. white black. gay straight. workingclass artiste. punk plunked.
New York stories from the punk, anti-disco, lights out days.
And two truly evil characters: minimal backstory for them, slimy, sneaky, killerish, ratty. Without much to motivate besides greed, desire for power, and sliminess. But those motivate even presidential candidates.
If you have a week and want a time travel book, read it. ( )
  kerns222 | Aug 24, 2016 |
This is the story of several interconnected characters in New York between 1960 and the present, with most of the action taking place between December 31, 1976 and July 14, 1977. The complexity of the plot makes it difficult to explain concisely, but it centers around the intersections among real estate speculation, crime, the punk scene, high society, and the art scene. There is a murder that is central to the plot, but the solution to this murder is not really the point.

If you would like to read a massive neo-Victorian tome about greed and loyalty in 1970s New York, topping out at more than 900 pages, I guess this is it. The rambling plot structure that gradually converges into a cohesive narrative, the themes, and the reliance on coincidence, are all pure Dickens. If I had to point to a specific precursor, I would say it most closely resembles Our Mutual Friend in theme and tone (that is a compliment). The book's moral lessons are filtered not through a Victorian lens, however, but through a twenty-first century one. The events of 1977 are colored by what came after, by AIDS and 9/11 and the financial crisis. It's a book about how we got here masquerading as a book about the way we were.

I liked this book, with some major reservations.

First, the obvious: it is far, far too long. Unlike Dickens, Hallberg wasn't paid by the word (or maybe he was?). There is a lot of unnecessary information and repetition of scenes from different perspectives that don't necessarily add anything. Length in itself is not a virtue.

Second, authenticity. I don't get a sense that I am IN New York of the 1970s. The way people talk, the way they act, the buzzwords used are too contemporary, despite all the window dressing of Patti Smith and ripped T-shirts and heroin. It doesn't seem like Hallberg can truly evoke how things smelled and looked and sounded. City on Fire tries so hard to reconstruct these elements but it does not feel genuine. Which leads to...

Third, Hallberg is so in love with his own writerliness that he forgets about empathy. To me, the tone was curiously cold. This is a book that will almost always forego the real, gritty, emotional, human side for some brilliantined piece of prose or ten-dollar vocab word. And that's the one sin that's really unforgivable. ( )
2 vote sansmerci | Jul 22, 2016 |
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Book description
New York City, 1976. Meet Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, estranged heirs to one of the city’s great fortunes; Keith and Mercer, the men who, for better or worse, love them; Charlie and Samantha, two suburban teenagers seduced by downtown’s punk scene; an obsessive magazine reporter and his idealistic neighbor—and the detective trying to figure out what any of them have to do with a shooting in Central Park on New Year’s Eve.

The mystery, as it reverberates through families, friendships, and the corridors of power, will open up even the loneliest-seeming corners of the crowded city. And when the blackout of July 13, 1977, plunges this world into darkness, each of these lives will be changed forever.
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