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City on Fire

Cover of City on Fire

City on Fire

A big-hearted, boundary-vaulting novel that heralds a remarkable new talent: set in 1970s New York, it is a story outsized in its generosity, warmth, and ambition, its deep feeling for its characters, and its exuberant imagination.

The individuals who live within this extraordinary first novel are: Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, estranged heirs to one of the city's largest 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; his idealistic neighbor; and the detective trying to figure out what any of them have to do with a shooting in Central Park. Their entangled relationships--which stretch from post-Vietnam youth culture to the fiscal crisis, from small-town Georgia to greater L.A.--open up the loneliest-seeming corners of the crowded city. And when the infamous blackout of July 13th, 1977 plunges this world into darkness, each of these lives will be changed forever. A novel about love and betrayal and forgiveness, about art and truth and rock'n'roll, about how the people closest to us are sometimes the hardest to reach--about what it means to be human.
A big-hearted, boundary-vaulting novel that heralds a remarkable new talent: set in 1970s New York, it is a story outsized in its generosity, warmth, and ambition, its deep feeling for its characters, and its exuberant imagination.

The individuals who live within this extraordinary first novel are: Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, estranged heirs to one of the city's largest 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; his idealistic neighbor; and the detective trying to figure out what any of them have to do with a shooting in Central Park. Their entangled relationships--which stretch from post-Vietnam youth culture to the fiscal crisis, from small-town Georgia to greater L.A.--open up the loneliest-seeming corners of the crowded city. And when the infamous blackout of July 13th, 1977 plunges this world into darkness, each of these lives will be changed forever. A novel about love and betrayal and forgiveness, about art and truth and rock'n'roll, about how the people closest to us are sometimes the hardest to reach--about what it means to be human.
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About the Author-
  • GARTH RISK HALLBERG's stories and essays have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, New York Magazine, Slate, Los Angeles Times, and Best New American Voices 2008. His illustrated novella, A Field Guide to the North American Family, was nominated for the Believer Book Award. He is 35 years old, and lives in Brooklyn with his wife and children.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 1, 2015
    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.

  • The Globe and Mail A New York Times Bestseller
    A New York Times Top Book of 2015
    A Vogue Best Book of 2015
    A Forbes Best Book of the Year

    A Library Journal Best Book of the Year
    A Kirkus Reviews Best Book of the Year
    A Guardian Best Book of the Year
    A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2015

    "Irresistible. . . . A sprawling chronicle of 1970s New York. . . . Pick it up, or suffer the consequences of a year spent on the outside of the cultural conversation."
  • Maclean's "[City on Fire] is worth the lumbar pain it might give readers who haul it with them on their daily commute. . . . A deeply engaging investment of time, worthy especially as a display of Hallberg's outsized ambition."
  • Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times Book Review
    "[A] fleet-footed novel that attests to its young author's epic ambition and boundless talents."
  • NPR "Epic, monstrous, beautiful. . . . Hallberg is such a natural writer, affectless and as smooth as cream."
  • The Atlantic "A grand, ambitious and extraordinarily well-written work."
  • Vanity Fair "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."
  • Elle "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."
  • Entertainment Weekly "It's hard to believe this layered, 944-page 1970s New York epic is a debut: The glitter and grime of the city's punk heyday are captured in gorgeous detail as multiple stories converge."
  • The Independent (UK) "A meticulous rendering of the period and equally ambitious in scope."
  • New Statesman (UK) "City on Fire is a formidable achievement in more ways than one . . . a book for our time."
  • Rolling Stone "A wild plunge into the bleak haze of late-1970s New York. . . . The best and biggest debut of the year . . . 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."
  • The Seattle Times "Stirringly ambitious. . . . A sprawling warehouse of a book stacked high with conflicted characters and interwoven stories, City on Fire reads like the ultimate post-mortem on 1970s New York. . . . At once a modern-historical novel and a timeless examination of the human impulses that frustrate the search for belonging, justice, self-worth and peace of mind for those at both the bottom and top of the economic ladder. Out of the alienating darkness, Hallberg has fashioned something profoundly illuminating."
  • Metro News (Toronto) "An epic story that should resonate with those who actually hung out at CBGB and those who show their affinity by wearing vintage Ramones t-shirts."
  • Booklist, starred review "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."
  • The Guardian (UK) "[Garth Risk Hallberg] has produced a novel which reaches its climax with a backdrop of vandalism, looting and arson in the 1977 New York City blackout--a story of such scale, ambition and readability that it has become this year's publishing sensation."
  • Library Journal, starred review "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."
  • Publishers Weekly "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."
  • Chicago Tribune "Both intricate and daring. [Hallberg's] treatment of
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