I was excited to find Garth Risk Hallberg's "City on Fire" on the library's shelves, and so far 2015's most hyped novel is holding my interest better than expected. Hallberg received a $1 million plus advance for his massive debut, which takes place in the ravaged New York City of the 1970s, but reviewers quickly blasted it and sales were disappointing when it appeared last autumn.
While The Times' "Ms. Indelible" Michiko Kakutani raved about "City on Fire," others lined up with the New Yorker's Louis Menand, who said the 944-page book should have been cut by 400 pages. Others criticized the plot and ornate language.
Perhaps because I first visited and fell in love with NYC at the time the novel takes place, I find the book captivated and hope that I will have the stamina to finish the marathon read. Hallberg's characters are distinctive, his scenes interesting and his language inventive. He's not that innovative, reminding me of other novelists, from Don DeLillo to Jonathan Franzen and Thomas Pynchon. Later in the book, he includes illustrations, reprints of magazine articles and handwritten pages. I'll report later on whether I find these metafictional techniques artistically valid or gimmicks.
So far, "City on Fire" keeps my reading lamp glowing. In the past, I've quickly burned out on heralded novels like Anthony Doerr's "All the Light We Cannot See" and Donna Tart's "The Goldfinch." Maybe I can go the distance with Hallberg.