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Book Review: Does City on Fire Warrant All the Hype?

In 2015 we have been treated with new books from literary titans such as Jonathan Franzen, Toni Morrison, Salman Rushdie; newly translated works by Haruki Murakami, exciting fiction from rising superstars, Lauren Groff, Hanya Yanagihara and Lauren Holmes; a posthumously published Harper Lee prequel; and brilliant sophomoric efforts by Adam Johnson, Claire Vaye Watkins and Ernest Cline. 

But, all of these striking works have been overshadowed by City on Fire, debut novel by Garth Risk Hallberg.

Hallberg hass been the talk of the town since receiving a two million dollar advance for his manuscript from Knopf. An Oscar winning producer had already acquired the film rights before the book’s release date. Hallberg has received attention from every major publication and even garnered a spread in Vogue.

Despite overwhelming coverage from mainstream media, the novel is a literary tome, clocking in at over 900 pages. The hysteria beckons the question: does Hallberg’s debut warrant the hype? The simple answer: most definitely.

With 1970’s New York as its backdrop, City on Fire has drawn comparisons with Don DeLillo’s masterpiece, Underworld, for its epic scope and expansiveness. Hallberg manages the novel’s sprawling nature with immediacy and carefully attuned characters who are both real and magnificently rendered. Somehow the novel moves like a thriller but remains personal and heartfelt. 

Many critics suggest in Hallberg we have a new Wolfe or Roth or Tart or Trollope, and yet I believe with Hallberg we have someone completely his own who has gifted us a book full of apt references to the 1970’s but will surely remain a timeless classic. With his Dickensian prose, Garth Risk Hallberg takes us through an incredible world where each and every moment carries a certain weight, and perhaps for a novel that bears so much of a reputation it is only correct to say that City on Fire is a novel of moving weight.

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