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His boyfriend, William, is the estranged scion of a banking family, an ex-punk-band leader, public-restroom cruiser, and heroin addict. He is trying to finish a painting. Everything in the scene is as he sees it and thinks it. Every chapter is in this mode. We get the picture from one point of view at a time. There are few wide-angle shots. The story is assembled in slices. Hallberg has an M. To a person who did live in New York in the nineteen-seventies—to wit, this person—his powers of evocation are uncanny.

The tag of the pioneer graffiti artist Taki was Taki , not Taki 8, for instance. There is virtually no mention of the Yankees, for instance, although they won the World Series in , under the guidance of the thin-skinned sourball Billy Martin, or the campaign for mayor, at the end of which, to the dismay of liberals, Ed Koch defeated Mario Cuomo. He gets the assaultive feeling the city had in those bombed-out years. He gets the ubiquitous defacement of public surfaces, the shuttered shops and derelict street people, the soul-destroying round-the-clock noise.

But he is like Dickens a romantic about human nature. The good guys are truly good, or, at least, they have honorable intentions and suffer remorse when they fall short. The few characters who are without a conscience had tough childhoods. The system is not to blame, it seems, nor is human folly. Hallberg is also a romantic about the nineteen-seventies. That may seem a strange species of nostalgia. The decade between and was the worst extended economic period since the nineteen-thirties.


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There were two oil crises, the first in , when the price of a barrel nearly quadrupled, and the second in , when it tripled. The stock market crashed in grim slow motion. Between and , the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost almost half its value, and the market did not get back to levels until In , unemployment jumped to 8. The inflation rate exceeded ten per cent.

By late , the year Ronald Reagan was elected President, the prime rate was twenty per cent. In New York, it was the same only worse. From to , the city lost more than six hundred thousand jobs. By , unemployment stood at eleven per cent, and one in every seven New Yorkers was on welfare. The city was broke and had to be bailed out. The price for that aid was austerity measures, and the reduction in city services, as well as poor decisions about things like the allocation of firehouses, led to areas of the city, like the Lower East Side and the South Bronx, becoming wastelands of drugs, abandoned buildings, muggings, robberies, and arson.

Signs of blight were everywhere, a kind of urban eczema. It was the time of broken windows. But, in part because of the collapse, the city also felt open, liberated, available. The piece of the downtown subculture that Hallberg takes on is the music scene. It was centered on two clubs, C. Those clubs were where groups like the Ramones, Television, and Blondie—groups at first known only by word of mouth—performed.

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Maybe here. Thought it seemed strange. Thanks for the review. I have no interest. That's what marks the artist, he's been there and has brought it back. As soon as I read these lines, "But this mystery somehow lacks heat, and this is one of several ways in which this novel stumbles. Grittier and smarter, if not overly detailed with Dennis Miller obscurantist allusions.

I just finished City on Fire, I loved it. It is surprising how many bad reviews, and lukewarm reviews it has gotten. It is a book all of it's own type, I felt gratified, cathartic , emotionally spent upon conclusion Stephen, I'm glad you like the novel, even though I don't. Regarding Peter Frampton: yes, devoted fans of British blues-rock which these characters were not might have been motivated to go to a Peter Frampton concert even before "Frampton Comes Alive" came out, but my more specific factual correction still stands: the now-legendary concert was not a Peter Frampton concert.

He was the opening act. Anyway, this hardly matters, especially since my point about errors was to praise this work of historical fiction for having remarkably few.

Garth Risk Hallberg, author of CITY ON FIRE, at the BEA Librarians’ Breakfast 2015

Skip to main content. Check these out. This latter one begins with a quote from William Burroughs: 'These are real maps of real places. Well done review, Mr Asher. More information about text formats.

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Save Preview. Search form. Read more and add your thoughts 13 comments. The odds were no better with me than for Baz Luhrmann's 'The Great Gatsby' this weekend as I donned my plastic 3D glasses and entered the dark theater. I really wasn't expecting to like the movie very much. Read more and add your thoughts 10 comments. Read more and add your thoughts 4 comments. Read more and add your thoughts 2 comments. Kathy Acker's "Dead Doll Humility" presents the struggle of a writer to persevere against all opposition.

Read more and add your thoughts 3 comments. I recently enjoyed two new novels, The Sympathizer by Viet Thang Nguyen and Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta that both left me thinking about the shimmering surfaces of everyday life, and the interwoven meshes of secrecy and guilt that ripple beneath. Read more and add your thoughts 1 comment. Read more and add your thoughts 7 comments.

What a voice. Rich, dark, sassy, slangy and street-smart. Funny, bitter, bristling with innocent joy. I'm talking about Billie Holiday's voice, but I'm not talking about her singing voice. I'm talking about her memoir, 'Lady Sings the Blues'. The Century of William S. Burroughs by Levi Asher Tuesday, February 4, pm. How are the other characters in the novel affected by this crime? Explore the theme of identity in the novel. How do the characters define their own identities and those of others?

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg review – sprawling and ambitious

How does race, class, gender, or sexuality inform these identities? How do experience and choice come into play? What does she mean by this? Do any of the other characters share a sense of dual or conflicting identities? If so, how do they reconcile with this?

What might this indicate about the nature of identity?

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg, review: 'too big and too narrow for life'

In your opinion, is there anything else a city can provide that novels cannot? In your view, is this supported or refuted as the novel reaches its conclusion? What did you know about New York in the s before reading this book? How does this world resonate with the times we live in now? How does the story ultimately transcend its setting? In other words, while the story takes place in New York City, what universal themes or commentary about the human experience does the book offer and explore?

Consider how the setting acts as a symbol, mirroring or exposing the inner lives and conflicts of its inhabitants. Throughout the novel, Mercer imagines being interviewed about being a writer. What does Mercer understand his purpose to be as a writer? Examine the roles that art, music, and writing play in the lives of the characters. How do these endeavors fulfill both those who create and those who observe or receive the art? Who are the Post-Humanists and what are some of their beliefs? What do they hope to accomplish as a group?

Would you say that they are successful? Why are the various members of the PHP drawn to Nicky? Explore the motifs of the family and the parent-child relationship in the novel. How would you characterize the relationships between these parents and their children? How do they evolve over the course of the novel? What causes them to change? The characters span several different stages of life. Do their experiences resonate with, or remind you of, any particular time in your own childhood, adolescence, or adulthood? In the second Interlude, Richard writes that the enjoyment of fireworks was historically something that people shared despite class and ethnic divisions page 6 of essay.

Alternatively, what prejudices are exposed in the novel and what causes friction between various individuals and groups? Are these issues ever resolved?