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City on Fire

3.40  ·  Rating details ·  13,460 ratings  ·  2,256 reviews
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, Richard, and his idealistic neighbor, Jenny, - and the detective trying to figure out ...more
Hardcover, 911 pages
Published October 13th 2015 by Knopf
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Julia I think Amory saw that Nicky wanted to set some buildings on fire in protest, and Amory used this to his advantage to get the neighborhood declared as…moreI think Amory saw that Nicky wanted to set some buildings on fire in protest, and Amory used this to his advantage to get the neighborhood declared as a "blight zone." So Amory gave him a place to live and money in exchange for setting the Bronx on fire, basically. This blight zone and the money it made for the Hamilton-Sweenys is what the investigation into William (the older father) is all about. Which is also part of Amory's plan to get William (the older father) thrown into jail so he can take over the company. At least that's my reading of it!(less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Carl Colegrove I'm thinking her father pulled the plug, making the ultimate sacrifice the section spoke about.

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Average rating 3.40  · 
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 ·  13,460 ratings  ·  2,256 reviews

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Campbell Andrews
May 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
Boy, I wanted to like this book.

Garth Risk Hallberg is certainly a writer of exceptional promise and unmistakable ability. There are passages in City On Fire that sublimely evoke New York City, portraying the Big Apple’s magnetism (and its monstrous shadow) so effectively as to make it feel like you’re walking the streets yourself. The amount of detail conjured in these pages is frequently astonishing.

And yet: why? Why must the writer tell us, for example, the relative size of an heirloom mattre
Feb 01, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: free-from-work
for the most part, this book was totally worth 2 million dollars. and it's definitely worth the cover price of $30.00.

but damn it's hard to review. at its most reductive, it's a multi-viewpoint novel told from the perspective of several characters living in new york during '77, culminating in that summer's blackout. it's a panoptic of the ultra-wealthy and the squatters, the artists and musicians and revolutionaries, gay and straight, old and young, black and white and asian, uptown and downtow
Jun 02, 2015 added it
Shelves: abandoned
Couldn't make it past the prologue. Two characters took about 50 pages to move a Christmas tree across the crosswalk. I don't care how big the buzz is; life is too short.
Paul Bryant
Sep 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: novels


After page 350 I decided to skip all the passages which bored the bejeesus out of me. As there were quite a considerable number of those, getting through the next 550 pages became a whole lot easier, even occasionally enjoyable. Even so, I feel like I need someone to come and defibrillate me.


On page 617 we read:

She seemed to like exactly those things he found most irksome about The New York Review of Books : its unapologetic boringness, its privil
Diane S ☔
Feb 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
I can't, just can't read this anymore. It is hanging over my head like Damocles' sword. Have read half but I just don't care enough about any of these characters to continue. Yes, it is well written, but way to wordy and just not for me a good fit. I am so darned relieved to be done.
Elyse  Walters
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Five reasons for 5 stars:
1. I had read 177 pages of this physical heavy weight book. (I own it). Then I saw that my library carried this audiobook - it was available change of plans. Instantly I recognized *Rebecca Lowman* as one of the main narrators. I began to melt into REBECCA LOWMAN BLISS!!!! Rebecca adds 'life' to the language and brings the characters alive.
2. Rebecca Lowman's voice is so sincere, warm, and real...I'm interested in anything she talks about. It was 'because' of Rebec
Sep 09, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: owned
City on Fire was marketed as one of the biggest book releases of 2015. Garth Risk Hallberg’s 900+ page debut novel, sold to the publisher for a whopping $2 million, has been likened to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad. And while I see the similarities, I think Hallberg’s doesn’t quite stack up to either of these novels.

Let’s disregard the fact that yes, this book is incredibly well written. Hallberg understands language. He writes with precision, with b
Oct 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
I can already feel the sting from the glances of side-eyed skepticism (and even scepticism) as I type this, that (for 600 pages, anyway) City on Fire, the massively hyped, crazy-quilt pastiche of a doorstopper was this close to earning a spot on my imaginary Favorites shelf. I was utterly enraptured by Garth Risk Hallberg's swirly, sweaty portrait of NYC in the mid-to-late '70's. Even with the pretentious slathering of the most obscure words of the English language, I flew through the pages as ...more
Oct 10, 2015 rated it liked it
I survived City on Fire! No matter what else I read in 2016, I feel a sense of accomplishment after finishing this dense, sprawling, 900-page tome.

For it is dense and sprawling. Comparisons to Dickens and Pynchon and David Foster Wallace and hell, even Shakespeare, are apt. The plot is so complicated it defies summary. There is a punk group on a mission; there is a rich family embroiled in a corruption scandal; there is an honest cop close to retirement; there are estranged lovers; there is a gi
Ron Charles
May 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The “it” book this fall is “City on Fire,” a 911-page debut by an unknown writer named Garth Risk Hallberg. Yes, Risk is literally his middle name, but it’s his publisher that’s taking a chance here. Having reportedly paid nearly $2 million for the manuscript, Knopf must be praying that “City on Fire” is worth its weight in Goldfinch. Such irrational exuberance can’t buy a spot on the bestseller list, but it can guarantee coverage. So prepare yourself for what passes for a book publicity juggern ...more
Sep 13, 2015 rated it did not like it
I can't do it. I can't read another page of this book beyond the 357 pages I've read so far. Maybe this book gets better, maybe it doesn't. But I'm not about to invest another minute to find out. I can only tell you my experience with it so far at the one-third mark which led me to abandoning it. And I'm not a person to abandon books easily.

The story takes place in New York City in the 1970's, the large handful of characters criss-crossing paths to connect and disconnect from one another. A sho
Jan 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It’s hard to know where to begin with Garth Risk Hallberg’s much-hyped City on Fire. I could try to talk about the $2 million advance, but I’m just a simple rube from the Midwest, with little knowledge of the bidding wars engaged in by publishing houses. I could ruminate on its complexly interwoven plot, with dozens of character arcs meandering in all directions until the book’s culminating event – the 1977 New York City blackout – pulls them all together. I could also marvel at this book’s size ...more
Michael Finocchiaro
This first novel by Garth Risk Hallberg is an impressive piece of literature. It has gotten a lot of press due to its weight (911 pages) and the signing bonus the author received ($2M apparently), so I was a little skeptical. Nonetheless, I did find it a good read and it kept me involved cover to cover.

**Possible Spoiler Alert but no real "big" ones**
The book centers around the shooting of Samantha Cicciaro in Central Park NYC on New Year's Eve in 1977 and the aftermath that ensues.

There are se
Violet wells
In the office where I sometimes work we have a game of seeding living writers according to talent and allocating them in three divisions - Serie A, Serie B and Serie C. Seeing as the publisher paid a whopping amount of money for this manuscript the assumption would be that here's an exciting new voice destined for the heights of Serie A. The first surprise therefore was how anachronistic and overwrought the prose is. We're back to the days of Thomas Wolfe - the misguided belief that genius can b ...more
Carmen Petaccio
Oct 06, 2015 rated it it was ok
No novel has ever needed to exist less.

An actual sentence: "Great rolls of toilet paper arc like ejaculate through the black sycamores."
Helene Jeppesen
Jan 29, 2016 rated it it was ok
My review of this book will be up on my channel later this month, so look out for that :)
Jun 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Incendiary "Bleak House." NYC, Summer 1977: Blackout Brewing, Punkers Stewing
4.6 stars. J'ai un peu peur ... Mon amour viens plus près, embrasse-moi.

Posted on Amazon b4 I got involved in Goodreads. I'm the Outlier . So be it. I'm sticking by my 5 stars. Not that anyone will read this once they see 5 stars.

A brash and brilliant novel set in the brazier that was 1977 New York City, a "Municipality Infernality," an "Immolation Station."

Don't be deterred by the novel's length. If you can t
Dec 10, 2016 rated it it was ok
Shelves: new-york-city
Nullarbor in New York

If you're going to write a thousand page saga about 1970's New York City, you shouldn't make it as flat and featureless as Kansas in the wintertime. I hit the wall at page 200.

Hallberg is certainly a competent writer but narrative-competence alone doesn't create enough payoff for the reader who has to slog through the tome that is City on Fire. No engaging emotion, no memorable physical description (I have no idea what any of the protagonists might look like), no humour, no
Set in 1970s New York, this much-talked-about, epic debut (it's 960 pages long and famously secured a $2m advance) centres on the shooting of a seventeen-year-old girl on New Year's Eve. At least, it starts off seeming like it does. It's so sprawling that it takes in the entire life story of most of its characters, who include Sam, the girl who's shot; her group of punk friends; Charlie, the boy who's infatuated with her; the mega-rich Hamilton-Sweeney family, notably siblings Billy and Regan; B ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it it was ok
I think I just hit my limit. I can only handle, you know, 10 references to Hegel and Gramsci per book. And the interspersed Latin, French, Italian, poorly translated Spanish...? SERIOUSLY?

Characters speak of academic theories they would not know. All have the same voice. A 17-year old girl from Long Island should not sound like an old money company head in his 60s. And no characters should resemble Ivy League comp lit professors.

I have compiled a list of about 300 words from this book that woul
Nov 09, 2015 rated it it was ok
Jesus, this book was the longest thing I've ever read. Worse than the physical number of pages in my hand was how long and heavy it felt - it dragged me down to the bottom of a 'what was the point of this book?' ocean and left me there to drown.

Things I learnt :
1. No amount of talent or ambition can survive an empty plot.
2. There are only a handful of books that require 900 pages to get things done. This is not one of those books.
3. No amount of talent or ambition can cover up the lack of a s
da AL
Intelligently and poetically written, and well performed by audiobook readers -- however -- would benefit hugely by being cut back to half as long. Thank you, audiobook app, for the option to listen at faster speeds.
Aug 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is an ambitious debut novel, which is more than 900 pages long and caused a bidding war between ten publishers, which ended with the an advance of nearly $2m. Rarely does publishing a new author – in this case 34 year old Garth Risk Hallberg – cause such excitement and I was keen to read this novel which is making such a noise. I am pleased to see publishers taking risks with long novels again; possibly helped by the success of such books as, “The Goldfinch” and “The Luminaries,” and settle ...more
I aim to read one book of 500+ pages in each month of 2017. My first Doorstopper of the Month is City on Fire, the 2015 debut novel from Garth Risk Hallberg. It’s common knowledge that Hallberg earned a six-figure advance for this 911-page evocation of a revolutionary time in New York City. When it was first published I didn’t think I had the fortitude to tackle it and had in mind to wait for the inevitable miniseries instead, but when I won a copy in a goodie bag from Hungerford Bookshop I deci ...more
Loring Wirbel
Aug 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Let's start with a couple concrete subjects: City On Fire is a 940-page monstrous Thud Factor book in the manner of Infinite Jest or War and Peace. It does not mean, as a few readers have suggested, that the book is in any way overwritten or in need of an editor. Hallberg's straight narrative style is brisk, almost breakneck at times, and goes down smooth.

But that means City on Fire is not a stream-of-consciousness, micro-analytical compendium of Big Thoughts in the Proust or Pynchon manner. H
Jul 24, 2018 rated it liked it
When you were young, you had the resources to rebuild after each crater fate blasted in your life. Beyond a certain age, though, you could only wall off the damage and leave it there.

A conceptual art project is described in the final pages of the novel depicting an inscription which requires ten days to complete followed by ten days of effacement. I felt something akin in this climb, this particular reading. Much of what needed to be said was accomplished in the novel's first half. The plateau b
Jan 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
2.5 out of 5.
Let's be honest, anything less than a 5 feels disappointing. But disappointment is the name of the game with this book: it is, without reservation, a let-down. Hallberg certainly has a gift, creating vivid characters and painting scenes that feel lived-in, but the novel is overstuffed and underbaked. The sentences that feel over-crafted overshadow the ones that feel effortless and the sinking feeling you develop about 100 pages in never quite goes away. The joys of the early going
Jul 01, 2015 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 2015
Somewhere down the road I think Hallberg will write a book I will really like, or maybe even love. But this was not it.

The first half of the novel could have been sliced down to a more manageable size, the second half is better but collapses somewhat under the expectations the previous hundreds of pages have built.

I love New York, especially during this time period and the chapters describing the black out are strong. But New York had millions of people living in it even in the 70s! Given the
Michelle Hart
Sep 02, 2015 rated it it was ok
i did not actually finish this book (it's 1000 pages), so you can take my evaluation with a grain of salt. or you can forget about it altogether. although that, in and of itself, is a kind of review.

this book wants SO BADLY to be THE great american novel. every element that has EVER been praised in american fiction is in this book, as if the author surveyed every pulitzer prize winning novel from the past fifty years and sought to add elements of each. the book is nearly 1000 pages. no, that's
Jan 09, 2015 rated it really liked it
Every year I go to BEA and I fail. I fail because I work in publishing but forget to network for my company, I fail because I am a freelancer and I forget to bring business cards, and I most crucially fail because I never get any of the good books, even though the WHOLE REASON I fail at that other stuff is because I'm trying so hard to get the good books.

But! This year I did not fail!!

That's actually only because I ran into Karen Queen of Goodreads and Greg her co-conspirator, and they—wonderfu
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Goodreads Librari...: Corrections 3 16 Feb 21, 2020 10:44AM  
Looking for discussions on symbolism and depth of book 3 40 Jul 10, 2019 06:35AM  
Goodreads Librari...: Request: Change Page Number [ISBN 978-0-385-68276-3] 5 13 Apr 28, 2017 01:06PM  
Why I'm Not Participating in Best-Of Votes 8 54 Feb 12, 2016 06:04AM  
MashableReads: Discuss 'City on Fire' with MashableReads 1 60 Dec 10, 2015 01:34PM  

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Garth Risk Hallberg’s stories and essays have appeared in Best New American Voices, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, Prairie Schooner, New York Magazine, Glimmer Train, Slate, Canteen, and The Pinch, as well as at The Millions, where he’s a contributing editor.

A 2008 New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow in Fiction and a two-time finalist for the National Book Critic

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