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City On Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg

city on fireCity on Fire is an amazing first novel that has been compared to the work of Tom Wolfe, Jonathan Franzen, Don DeLillo, and Richard Price.

Hallberg said the idea for the novel came to him when he heard Billy Joel’s Miami 2017: Seen the Lights Go Out On Broadway. The song references New York City’s Blackout of 1977, as well as the economic devastation, crime, and drug scene that blighted New York City in the 70s.

Over the course of the book’s 900+ pages, the reader meets people from opposite ends of the social strataindividuals whose lives converge over the mystery of who murdered a 21-year-old girl and the possible connection of the crime to an abandoned East Village property. Old money rubs shoulders with mercenary and sinister forces, relationships (gay and straight) are explored, and the tragic effect of loss on children’s lives is seen in the main protagonists. Meanwhile, fires are being set throughout New York. Are they just outgrowths of economic inequalities? Or is something else something far bigger afoot? Hallberg’s novel includes numerous sympathetic, larger-than-life personalities, but perhaps the biggest character in the book is New York City itself.

If you are seeking a novel in which you can immerse yourself a book that contains not just straight narrative, but also letters, magazine clippings, handwritten and typed coffee-stained notes put yourself on hold for this literary fête. City on Fire is sure to be one of the most talked about books for fall, and probably short-listed for a literary award. Hallberg has written a tour de force not to be missed.

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 Readers might also want to check out the library’s copy of the new PBS documentary, Blackout, which suggests the economic inequality of NYC’s blighted neighborhoods in the 1970s resulted in the torching and looting of 1,600 businesses when the lights went out July 13, 1977.

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