City on Fire: A novel

City on Fire: A novel

National Best Seller • Named a Best Book of the Year by: New York Times, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Vogue, The Atlantic, Newsday

“A novel of head-snapping ambition and heart-stopping power—a novel that attests to its young author’s boundless and unflagging talents.” Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
New York City, 1976. Meet Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, estranged heirs to one of the city’s great fortunes; Keith and Mercer, the men who, for better or worse, love them; Charlie and Samantha, two suburban teenagers seduced by downtown’s punk scene; an obsessive magazine reporter and his idealistic neighbor—and the detective trying to figure out what any of them have to do with a shooting in Central Park on New Year’s Eve.
The mystery, as it reverberates through families, friendships, and the corridors of power, will open up even the loneliest-seeming corners of the crowded city. And when the blackout of July 13, 1977, plunges this world into darkness, each of these lives will be changed forever.
City on Fire is an unforgettable novel about love and betrayal and forgiveness, about art and truth and rock ’n’ roll: about what people need from each other in order to live . . . and about what makes the living worth doing in the first place.


  • Hardcover: 944 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First edition (October 13, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385353774
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385353779
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.7 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (422 customer reviews)
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  1. I have taken longer to write this review than any other book since I have become a Vine Member. What a complex book to read, what a complex book to review.

    I happen to have gone to college in New York city during the years of 1975-1979 when a good portion of the book takes place. This author has been able to evoke the time and place so well that I felt as though I was 18 and living in NYC again. . There is no doubt that this debut author took a huge risk and made mistakes along the way. City on Fire is a complex, sweeping novel full of carefully researched detail. The characters that the story revolves around are eclectic, realistic and for the most part engaging. It is unfortunately overlong and it is over plotted. At 550 pages this may have been the masterpiece that critics are hailing, at 913 pages there was much too much padding and tangled histories of the characters to dredge through. At times some of the chapters felt forced, as though the author was grappling for themes and content that were not necessary. I believe that this author was unable to part with a single story line or word, and that he poured his heart and soul into these pages, so someone at Knopf should have tried harder during the editing process.

    A shooting in Central Park on New Year’s Eve becomes the mystery that all the individuals’ stories revolve around and which are eventually linked together by. We share this journey with a wide array of characters of all ages, from all walks of life, who are in love with the city. While deserving of a 5 star review for creativity, beautiful writing and compelling characters, the unnecessarily long and inconsequential tangents unfortunately make it a 3 star read.

  2. I suspect that more people know the backstory of this manuscript than know about the actual story inside the pages. The backstory: book sells for $2 million after an intense auction featuring most of NYC’s publishing elite; editors from around the industry describe it as the best thing they’ve read in years; the author describes it as his attempt to create a novel version of an HBO boxed set; this is the book that is the epitome of the best publishing has to offer.

    MAN I have been looking forward to reading this since 2013, when the auction was held. I am such a sucker for big epic novels. I literally shrieked with excitement when I got hold of the manuscript.


    Look, in terms of the book itself, comparisons have been made to DeLillo and Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, and granted, I don’t love any of those guys – so maybe this book was not for me right from the start. And Mr. Hallberg can definitely write. He has a way of creating a scene where you feel like you are actually right there, almost living it alongside the characters. The “HBO Box Set” comparison is apt. He creates a very precise world of New York City in the 1970s that is so tangible you feel like you’re watching it on TV, or in a movie theater, not reading it on a page. It’s seriously impressive.


    In many ways, this book is written like a checklist of “how to appeal to the stereotypical publishing literary elite.” It takes place in the 70s. There are rich people who reject their wealth and feel disenfranchised. There are poor people scraggling for their place in the world. There are older men having affairs with teenage girls. There are obscure (fictitious) punk rock bands. And drugs. Many drugs.Read more ›

  3. Big numbers will be the focus of much commentary on City on Fire: the seven-figure advance, the nearly-four-figure page count. It would be fitting if the novel were either a grand success or a grand failure, but in fact the impression it leaves is one of genial blandness. Hallberg writes well enough, playing with levels of diction in a way that alienates some readers but which I find appropriate and credible. But that sort of play is common nowadays, and Hallberg’s style is undistinguished compared to that of similar practitioners– David Gilbert, Jonathan Franzen– of the sweeping, gently-if-frequently satiric novel of urban or suburban dysfunction. As the pages pile up one waits with diminishing patience for a genuinely surprising or even a wittily-expressed observation. There are, perhaps, enough of those for a novel 1/3 of this length. I’m not immune to the appeal of doorstopper fiction or the pleasures of inessential narration, but I do feel compelled to point out that much of what’s described is trivial: the 120 pages of flashbacks following the novel’s in media res opening, for example, contain perhaps five pages’ worth of material that expands our understanding of character or theme. And for all of its length the novel is circumscribed in peculiar ways. Secondary characters remain for great stretches one-dimensional– wicked stepmother, Machiavellian financier, overbearing mother– and while the characters nominally cover all economic classes, actual financial worry remains distant, something select characters are said to feel that never interrupts the meticulous rendering of their quirks and neuroses. For ultimately City on Fire is the latest evidence that historical, social, and cultural scope in the contemporary literary epic is ultimately so much window-dressing for a conventional treatment of family psychology. There’s nothing wrong with that, necessarily, but one might hope that a 900-page-novel would have something more going on.

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