City on Fire
Garth Risk Hallberg
Expectations, perhaps, ran a bit too high for Garth Risk Hallberg’s much-anticipated novel, for which he is reported to have been paid an astonishing $2 million. Set in mid-1970s New York City, City on Fire is a maximalist account of the lives of characters – interconnected to varying degrees – against the backdrop of a New Year’s Eve shooting in Central Park.
Hallberg shows signs of literary talent, and his novel’s murder mystery plot might have been expected to be enticing in the way that unsolved crime stories can be. Yet the author fails to do justice to his potential with this novel. He over-describes the slowly developing action and gives far too much background information for far too many characters, which ultimately detracts from the quality and overall legibility of this 944-page work.
Narration clumsily switches from perspective to perspective and from moment to moment. This could have worked, had the device not been over-abused to the point of frustrating the reader with a plethora of sub-stories and characters that are all too similar despite their supposed diversity. Unfortunately, those who had hopes for a classic work will have to wait a bit longer for Hallberg to reach that standard.
Words: Cristina Tomàs