I recently finished listening to City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg. Let’s just launch right into it. Here’s a synopsis from Amazon:
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.
City on Fire is an unforgettable novel about love and betrayal and forgiveness, about art and truth and rock ’n’ roll: about what people need from each other in order to live . . . and about what makes the living worth doing in the first place.
I thought this novel was, for the most part, interesting and engaging. In particular, I loved how the different story lines intertwined together. That’s one of my favorite “types” of books: starting out with separate perspectives or characters and watching as they grow towards each other. I’m also a big fan of exploring complex, dysfunctional families, so listening to the dirty deeds and stuffy struggles of the Hamilton-Sweeneys was right up my alley.
HOWEVER, City on Fire didn’t suck me right into the story. It felt very “written”, rather than a natural flow of thoughts (if that makes any sense). The writing could be a bit stiff and forced at times. Plus, I had a hard time getting into the punk scene. I don’t love punk rock and was not familiar with a lot of the bands the author insisted on mentioning over and over. I think it would have been more meaningful if the author had quoted lyrics or described how the music made the characters feel more than just name-dropping.
Overall, City on Fire was intriguing, but I didn’t connect much with any of the main characters. I found it hard to settle into the setting of the story and sometimes the writing was too formal, bringing me out of the story and making me think more of the author than the characters. It wasn’t a bad novel and I didn’t dislike it, but I don’t think I’ll be recommending it anytime soon, especially given that it was almost a 40-hour read.
Until next time, bibliophiles….