City on Fire

Garth Risk Hallberg. Knopf, $30 (944p) ISBN 978-0-385-35377-9
Hallberg’s maniacally detailed, exhaustingly clever depiction of 1970s New York is packed with urban angst, intellectual energy, and sinister pitfalls, much like the city it evokes. This epic of drugs, sex, and rock and roll combines fiction and new journalistic accounts of real events, with a character’s typed manuscript drafts (spill marks included), hand-written diaries, notebooks, photographs, cartoons, drawings, homework, and personal correspondence. A cast of characters drawn from all social strata features William Hamilton-Sweeney, artist and sometime heroin addict, once heir to a fortune, once lead guitarist for the post-humanist rock band Ex Post Facto; and Sam Cicciaro, the girl everyone finds irresistible, discovered half-dead in Central Park by William’s lover, Mercer. The search to identify Sam’s attacker is one of several story lines tying the ambitious work together; another is Mercer’s attempt, propelled by William’s sister, Regan, to bring William back into the family fold as their father’s business collapses and troubles in the family mount. Charlie, an alienated teenager who becomes a rock band groupie, falls for Sam. Meanwhile Richard Kosgroth, veteran journalist and Capote wannabe, interviews Sam’s father, New York’s fireworks king. Seventies survivors will not be surprised when city residents come together during the ’77 blackout. Readers wishing to wallow in cultural trivia will find much to savor in Hallberg’s all-encompassing, occasionally overwritten effort, but others will be left to wonder how so much energy could generate so little light. Agent: Chris Parris-Lamb, the Gernert Company. (Oct.)
Reviewed on: 06/01/2015
Release date: 10/13/2015
Genre: Fiction
Compact Disc - 978-1-101-88877-3
Hardcover - 944 pages - 978-0-385-68274-9
Paperback - 944 pages - 978-0-8041-7295-0
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio
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