Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Too Big to Blog

My New Year's resolution...blog! No, I didn't stop reading. I just stopped writing about it. The books stacked up but the words just rattled around in my head. The start of my troubles was probably when I tackled Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire – all 911 pages of it. By the end I was exhausted and overwhelmed. How to get down on paper (figuratively) my thoughts on this sprawling, complicated story? The setting is New York of the 1970's. The city is approaching bankruptcy, drug addiction is rampant, punk rock and the rad art scene are emerging, the rich are getting richer by making their own rules. Hallberg puts a character in every one of these camps - young, old, black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor. They are all fleshed out human beings, complicated and compelling. The center of the story is the murder of a a young NYU student in Central Park on New Year's Eve, but in Dickensian fashion Hallberg weaves interconnected subplots, flashbacks and flashforwards, coffee-stained reporters notes and teenage zines into a staggering story that climaxes with the July 13, 1977 New York City blackout.

The characters belong to such different social strata that it seems each of their stories is separate strand, and yet by the end they are all braided together in ways that I didn't see coming, but didn't feel forced or artificial. This is Hallberg's first novel. I can't wait to see what comes next.