Sunday, June 12, 2016

Book Review: City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

The marketing scheme of announcing that this book received two million dollars from the publishing company worked on a foolish reader like me and it is only a testament to my determination to finish a book I put time into reading, and my ability to read more than one book at a time, that I finished this book at all. I expected something that would engage me and allow me to escape the sad world with vivid characters and entrancing setting but much of City on Fire the debut novel of Garth Risk Hallberg is dull and overly wordy to the point that I could manage a chapter a night, short chapters thankfully, and stop reading it for weeks forgetting characters and plot point before I picked it back up hoping the plot would pick back up.

Hallberg's novel isn't all bad and I had thought I would enjoy it despite all the shaking head reviews but as I come to the end and the resolution, I find myself disappointed as well. It will take a lot of convincing to ever pick up a book by this author as I was suckered into picking up a hardcover in the thoughts of participating in some literary event. 

The novel revolves around rich privileged siblings of a fiction family because what literary novel would work without the wealthy to purchase it, so the main characters are as richer than the now wealthy author with wealth beyond imagination. Extending from there are the lovers of these siblings, William the Third is in a homosexual relationship with an African-American schoolteacher. Mercer is one of the more interesting characters though nothing much ever comes from his storyline. Regan, the sister sibling, is married to a white banker of sorts, I was never really sure of his job but somehow he gets involved in scams and loses lots of money and then has an affair. This affair leads to the murder mystery that has one of the most disappointing resolutions after eight hundred pages.

New York is well-described in thousands of passages and was one part of the novel I really did enjoy. I only visited the city that never sleeps on a few occasions so it was nice to revisit it in a novel. I would be curious to see what residents think, especially those who lived in the tie period, specifically the blackout of 1977. The actual blackout takes forever to get going and when it does is spread out with various characters' viewpoints and gets convoluted and boring. It is really hard to care for anyone and the conspiracy of villains falls apart with no satisfying resolution. This is the kind of book that several people enjoyed and got together to force the rest of us to endure it. 

Maybe as I look back on the book, I will think more fondly of it but as of now, I'm pretty disappointed and feel like I wasted a huge chunk of my reading time on a novel that amount to not much and hardly had me thinking about anything more profound than what to do with trash in a big city. There were moments where light almost broke through and I guess a lot of them to keep me reading but overall this book took me two and a half months and I should have put it down at multiple times. I can't recommend this book to anyone except those who have way too much time on their hands, like in prison time, and want to know the formula to make a million dollars off of writing. I wish I could say more positive thinks or comment more on the story and writing but dismay seems to be the emotion that fills me here at the end.  

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