City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

64%

56 Critic Reviews

It was always going to be difficult for City on Fire to live up to the expectations being laid on it. But Hallberg’s concern for authenticity ultimately pays off...
-Financial Times

Synopsis

National Best Seller • Named a Best Book of the Year by: New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Vogue, The Atlantic, Newsday

“A novel of head-snapping ambition and heart-stopping power—a novel that attests to its young author’s boundless and unflagging talents.” Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
 
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.


From the Hardcover edition.
 

About Garth Risk Hallberg

See more books from this 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 lives in New York with his wife and children.
 
Published October 13, 2015 by Vintage. 944 pages
Genres: History, Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, Crime, War, Romance. Fiction
Bestseller Status:
icon12
Peak Rank on Nov 01 2015
icon1
Weeks as Bestseller
Add Critic Review

Critic reviews for City on Fire
All: 56 | Positive: 31 | Negative: 25

Kirkus

Excellent
on May 06 2015

That's not to say he's written a pastiche, but as his various plotlines braid tighter during the July 1977 blackout, his novel becomes an ambitious showpiece for just how much the novel can contain without busting apart.

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from Kirkus

Publishers Weekly

Above average
on May 29 2015

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.

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from Publishers Weekly

NY Times

Below average
Reviewed by FRANK RICH on Oct 08 2015

“City on Fire” may not be as good as it is ambitious, but in the tradition of other precocious New York debuts since time immemorial, it is radiant with the possibility that its author will do something great.

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from NY Times

NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Michiko Kakutani on Oct 05 2015

“City on Fire” traverses the suburbs and boroughs of New York with the same audacity with which it bounds from shiny penthouses to squalid squats, from uptown costume galas to grungy downtown clubs, from high-finance offices to anonymous dive bars.

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from NY Times

Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Sandra Newman on Oct 22 2015

The book is certainly impressive – but as a debut of remarkable promise, rather than as the masterpiece that fulfills that promise.

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from Guardian

Guardian

Below average
Reviewed by Alex Preston on Oct 18 2015

It is when Hallberg seeks to move between the points of view of his extensive cast of characters that things go less well. Free indirect style, where the voice of the character whose perspective we are inhabiting merges with the narrative voice, requires the author to hand over some measure of control to their characters.

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from Guardian

NPR

Below average
Reviewed by Maureen Corrigan on Oct 20 2015

It's the fresh precision of passages like these - dozens and dozens of them - that make "City On Fire" almost worthy of all the hype around it. The end of this ambitious tale is muzzy and flat, more akin to that Amtrak waiting room than to the soaring skyscraper finale you might hope for.

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from NPR

NPR

Above average
Reviewed by Jason Sheehan on Oct 15 2015

While City On Fire might not be the proverbial great New York novel, it's not far off. And I can't wait to see what Hallberg does next.

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from NPR

Star Tribune

Above average
Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg on Nov 08 2015

As you give yourself over to the spell of “City on Fire,” though, you’ll appreciate that any shorter and less intricately constructed work wouldn’t have done justice to the ambition and power of Hallberg’s transfixing vision.

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from Star Tribune

Financial Times

Above average
Reviewed by John Sunyer on Oct 16 2015

It was always going to be difficult for City on Fire to live up to the expectations being laid on it. But Hallberg’s concern for authenticity ultimately pays off...

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from Financial Times

LA Times

Below average
Reviewed by David L. Ulin on Oct 08 2015

There is a lot of terrific writing in "City on Fire," a lot of vivid action, of ideas. But in the end, it doesn't, can't, quite support our faith or its author's intention, can't quite carry the weight of all its words.

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from LA Times

Globe and Mail

Below average
Reviewed by Barry Hertz on Oct 16 2015

The whole effort might have been worth it had the novel’s much-hyped blackout-set climax somehow glued every broken piece together. But again, Hallberg is hungrier than he is patient...

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from Globe and Mail

The Economist

Above average
on Oct 31 2015

That he has written something as convincing as “City on Fire” is to be applauded. Some might quibble with the fact that he never seems quite ready to let go of his characters. Like a protective parent, he is rather too eager to solve every last mystery, tie up every loose end.

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from The Economist

Entertainment Weekly

Good
Reviewed by Leah Greenblatt on Oct 06 2015

The book’s length could almost certainly have been trimmed without losing its essence. Those seem like minor complaints, though, in the face of such a singular achievement: a novel as rich and maddening and unforgettable as the city it illuminates.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The Independent

Below average
Reviewed by Julie Mcdowall on Oct 25 2015

In trying to cover so much ground, running to well over 900 pages, the book feels uneven and indulges in pointless typographical flourishes such as pages rendered in handwriting or as coffee-stained typewritten sheets, but its attempt to capture a whole city and its troubled zeitgeist is gloriously ambitious...

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The Independent

Above average
Reviewed by LUCY SCHOLES on Oct 22 2015

The length – over 900 pages – will put many people off but the chapters are surprisingly wieldy, skipping between the perspectives of the vast cast of characters, keeping the reader's attention (though perhaps pointing more towards an HBO mini-series than a one-off drama).

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The Telegraph

Above average
Reviewed by Jonathan McAloon on Nov 03 2015

Everyone has at least one disappointing or dead parent. Patterning feels compulsive, overdone. His vision is at once too big and too narrow for life.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Booklist Online

Excellent
Reviewed by Joanne Wilkinson on Oct 11 2015

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.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

BookPage

Above average
Reviewed by Theodore Yurevitch on Oct 15 2015

And while it certainly is long, what will last about this book is the sense of empathy for a myriad of multicolored lives, this feeling that sticks around in the heart even after having put down the book.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Good
Reviewed by Carlo Wolff on Oct 11 2015

“City on Fire” has the scope of a classic Russian novel. I spent a week compulsively reading it, and since finishing, I’ve had a hard time picking up another book.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

USA Today

Above average
Reviewed by Eliot Schrefer on Oct 18 2015

For those with the patience to sink deeply into a time and place, City on Fire will be an uncommon pleasure. There's a deliciousness to witnessing characters meet for the first time after 700 pages apart.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The Sydney Morning Herald

Below average
Reviewed by Sam Cooney on Dec 02 2015

City on Fire continually returns to the motifs of fire and fireworks throughout its too many pages, and although it too is smouldering and colourful and giving of proximate warmth, unlike fireworks there is very little shock in which to feel delight, and unlike the author's middle name, absolutely no risk.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The Columbus Dispatch

Above average
Reviewed by Margaret Quamme on Oct 18 2015

Vast as it first appears, City on Fire is essentially a domestic drama, with parents and children reconciling, and lovers or partners recognizing their own and each other’s flaws. It’s a well-made machine, delivering a solid literary experience, even if it doesn’t propel the reader into any new territory.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Newsday

Above average
Reviewed by Marion Winik on Oct 06 2015

This show-offy but endearing behemoth of a novel is not so much a great book but a book that could be remembered as the first effort of a great writer.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

We Love This Book

Above average
Reviewed by Cara Fielder on Oct 25 2015

City on Fire is bold and ambitious. A novel that, if given the time and attention, creeps under your skin and stays there. It may be too long but what it contains still makes for an incredible read.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The National

Good
Reviewed by Tod Wodicka on Oct 22 2015

For all of the book’s talk of punk rock and revolution, City on Fire is a heart-warming and sneakily conservative book at heart. And it’s that heart, I suspect, that will ultimately connect with a lot of readers.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Watermark Books And Cafe

Good
Reviewed by Bruce Jacobs on Nov 01 2015

He culminates his powerful saga in the July blackout, when the strings of his story tie satisfyingly together. Despite its somewhat seedy ambience, New York City in the '70s may also have been the city at its most lively.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Chicago Tribune

Below average
Reviewed by Michael Upchurch on Nov 19 2015

Anachronisms abound. Some are just a matter of vocabulary. (The terms "shock jock" and "job creator" didn't gain traction until a decade or more later.) Others concern period detail....some of Hallberg's missteps don't feel that minor.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Library Journal

Excellent
Reviewed by James Coan on Jul 20 2015

Throughout, Hallberg expertly handles the multiple shifts in perspective, vibrantly portraying a specific time and place and creating memorable characters—especially Charlie and Regan, a complicated mess of a poor little rich girl who manages to be heroic in her own way—all wandering the vast, ongoing American dreamscape that is New York City.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The New Yorker

Above average
Reviewed by Louis Menand on Oct 12 2015

It was another era, remote not just in time but in spirit, and now that we know how it all came out it’s nice to have a book that brings a little of it back. You can always close a book.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

BuffaloNews.com

Above average
Reviewed by Michael D. Langan on Nov 01 2015

“City” remains a romantic effort with a kaleidoscope of perspectives. I would have wished for more focus, but this seems not have been within the ambit of the novel’s orbit, given Hallberg’s copious sweep and scope of events and issues.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The Rumpus

Above average
Reviewed by BRIAN TED JONES on Nov 02 2015

That’s the ambition of City on Fire. It’s not a big novel about the human condition. It’s a novel that word by word reaches out to capture the smallness of life, the minute particularity that stacks up until—whoa, baby—you’ve got a whole universe on your hands, but a universe that flies away like a pile of dirt in a strong wind.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Paste

Good
Reviewed by Mark Eleveld on Oct 28 2015

Here is a novel in which the plot is the rhythm section, not the melody, and it stays free of labored explanations and a forced climax. Hallberg’s City on Fire is resolute and powerful.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

New Statesman

Below average
Reviewed by Sarah Churchwell on Oct 28 2015

City on Fire is a formidable achievement in more ways than one, but it succumbs to the gig­antism of a supersize culture...

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The Australian

Good
Reviewed by Geordie Williamson on Nov 07 2015

If the set-up sounds contrived, that sense is forgiven by the sweat and blood spent by the author in making his creations live on the page.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The Atlantic

Above average
Reviewed by ERIK P. HOEL on Oct 21 2015

City on Fire’s television-like plotting, pacing, characterization, and writing, as well as the lengthy and episodic nature of it, is undeniably mimetic of Golden Age TV. But City on Fire can equally be seen as a challenge to contemporary television...

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Stuff

Above average
Reviewed by DAVID HERKT on Dec 20 2015

There is no doubt that Hallberg can write, and that he is capable of taking the reader to interesting places by idiosyncratic means. At times, his prose is exacting and vivid with unexpected revelations. But inside every fat novel is a slim one begging to get out.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Esquire

Good
Reviewed by JULIA BLACK on Oct 20 2015

It is in these small glimpses of humanity that the book becomes as big as its author's ideas. And more important: a book deserving of its hype.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Arts Fuse

Below average
Reviewed by Matt Hanson on Oct 24 2015

City on Fire is an interesting, worthwhile novel that’s often very well written but as a whole it burns—it doesn’t blaze.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The Missoulian

Below average
Reviewed by David L. Ulin on Oct 31 2015

There is a lot of terrific writing in “City on Fire,” a lot of vivid action, of ideas. But in the end, it doesn’t, can’t, quite support our faith or its author’s intention, can’t quite carry the weight of all its words.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The Anniston Star

Above average
Reviewed by Steven Whitton on Nov 15 2015

In its favor is that "City on Fire" is never a slog. Once readers begin it, they are going to want to remain with it. It is rewarding. It is passionate and decidedly gripping. A classic? Who knows yet? But it is certainly a gift from Garth Risk Hallberg to readers...

Read Full Review of City on Fire

GQ

Good
Reviewed by A.O. Scott on Oct 05 2015

For all the mayhem it depicts—a rape and two possible murders; arson fires, bombings, and spasms of rioting—City on Fire is a novel of connection, forgiveness, and empathy, resting on the solid bedrock of what Hallberg’s anarchist punks might sneeringly call bourgeois liberal values.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

National Post arts

Below average
Reviewed by Andrew F. Sullivan on Oct 15 2015

With City on Fire, Hallberg has successfully gathered all these disparate, desperate remainders together, but he won’t let any of them stand on their own.

Read Full Review of City on Fire | See more reviews from National Post arts

That's What She Read

Excellent
Reviewed by Michelle on Nov 18 2015

City on Fire is an ambitious novel for any writer. The fact that it is the work of a debut novelist makes it that much more impressive.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

https://www.bostonglobe.com

Below average
Reviewed by Priscilla Gilman on Oct 17 2015

“City on Fire’’ shows off the author’s erudition, his deep reading, his intelligence, and his commitment to producing something epic. But it lacks the vitality it describes; it’s oddly subdued, overly painstaking in its descriptions, and too often exhaustive rather than illustrative.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

https://www.washingtonpost.com

Above average
Reviewed by Ron Charles on Oct 05 2015

But such objections will be drowned out by the vibrancy of a novel whose Whitmanesque arms embrace an entire city of lovers and strivers, saints and killers.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Raging Biblioholism

Below average
Reviewed by Drew on Aug 03 2015

But I cannot say that I disliked this book. Much as I felt betrayed by it and ultimately immensely disappointed, I did not dislike it because (as I said earlier) the early going shows so much promise.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Everyday eBook

Good
Reviewed by Zach Borenstein on Oct 13 2015

Despite any points of contention, City on Fire is genius, not for being a perfect work of art, which it is not, but for the reported six years it took the author to work on the project and the additional years lived to gain unmistakable wisdom and discipline.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

https://bookmunch.wordpress.com

Above average
Reviewed by Daniel Carpenter on Nov 17 2015

In the end, City on Fire has its issues. It is a problematic book to some extent, and that makes it difficult to outright praise. It is not the masterpiece that it’s claiming to be. But there’s so much to admire and like about the book that it’s also difficult to ignore.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

https://mauriceonbooks.wordpress.com

Above average
Reviewed by lomaurice on Oct 19 2015

I’m not going to lie and tell you this novel is perfect. Far from it, but worth plowing through. I felt there were probably hundreds of pages that could have and should have been cut out. Too wordy. But the result is a story you will never forget.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Chicago Center For Literature And Photography

Good
Reviewed by Nora Rawn on Feb 04 2016

This ambitious first book handles its occasionally creaking plot serviceably enough, but fails to make that magic transition that breathes life into the characters involved.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

The Skinny

Good
Reviewed by James Troeltsch on Oct 06 2015

Hallberg is so restless, jumping between so many characters and plotlines, that you seldom feel the sense of vicarious consciousness, of inhabiting another sensibility, afforded by the truly great novels. Less width, more depth, in other words. Still, what an accomplishment.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Vulture

Below average
Reviewed by Christian Lorentzen on Oct 04 2015

Hallberg has tried to yoke the genre to what one character calls a “fairy tale,” but one of the virtues of fairy tales is that they’re usually only a few pages long.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

https://bookpeopleblog.wordpress.com

Excellent
Reviewed by Juliewbp on Oct 21 2015

Novels like this one come along very rarely – a magnificent and brilliant work encompassing so much and in such depth that the investment of reading all nine hundred pages seems so small for the great reward afterward.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

https://thebookloversboudoir.wordpress.com

Below average
on Oct 03 2015

City on Fire will probably be adored by a certain type of reader and win awards but Hallberg failed to impress me. Hallberg doesn’t have the skill to pull off a novel as huge and ambitious as City on Fire.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

http://nypost.com

Below average
Reviewed by Elisabeth Vincentelli on Nov 25 2015

Or take this description of someone at a fancy party: “Against the flames, Felicia’s body was a smudge, save for her mask, whose red sequins shimmered intelligently.” So this is what $2 million gets us: a universe in which sequins shimmer intelligently. This only thing “City on Fire” will burn up is the remainder tables.

Read Full Review of City on Fire

Reader Rating for City on Fire
55%

An aggregated and normalized score based on 506 user ratings from iDreamBooks & iTunes


Rate this book!

Add Review
×