For those who never experienced the true melting-pot squalor and splendor of New York City in the 1970s, films like Taxi Driver and Dog Day Afternoon have, for decades, come closest to mirroring the grit, grime and
glory of the Big Apple. That is until the recent publication of the 927-page magnum opus City On Fire by 36-year-olddebut novelist Garth Risk Hallberg, who has penned one of the most intensely hyped novels in recent memory.
City On Fire is an adrenaline rush of a novel featuring a host of Dickensian characters, all on the run from families, class, race and sexuality. Hallberg’s lyrical prose heralds the arrival of one of the great new writers of our time.
The plot surrounds the shooting of a young woman named Sam on New Year’s Eve. The other central character is the highly creative and intelligent heroin-shooting heir to his family’s vast fortune, William Hamilton Sweeney III. Known to his Punk band members as Billy Three-Sticks, William seems destined to implode.
While an enterprising journalist tries to solve Sam’s shooting, Billy and his equally colorful bandmates go about burning down the very city that has given them a canvas upon which to paint, and Hallberg interweaves the novel with ancillary characters that intertwine themselves with Sam and Billy.
This novel’s denouement features a city-wide blackout, during which each character gets a chance for redemption. Whether it’s at the bedside vigil for Sam or in a pitch-blackstaircase of a city skyscraper, the heart of this novel lies in the idea that through hope and love, reparation and atonement can be found. Grade: A+