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City on Fire  By  cover art

City on Fire

By: Garth Risk Hallberg
Narrated by: Rebecca Lowman,Tristan Morris,Bronson Pinchot,MacLeod Andrews,Alex McKenna,Paul Michael
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Publisher's summary

A big-hearted, boundary-vaulting novel that heralds a remarkable new talent: set in 1970s New York, a story outsized in its generosity, warmth, and ambition, its deep feeling for its characters, its exuberant imagination.

The individuals who live within this extraordinary first novel are: Regan and William Hamilton-Sweeney, estranged heirs to one of the city's largest 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. Their entangled relationships open up the loneliest-seeming corners of the crowded city. And when the infamous blackout of July 13, 1977, plunges this world into darkness, each of these lives will be changed forever. A novel about love and betrayal and forgiveness, about art and truth and rock 'n' roll, about how the people closest to us are sometimes the hardest to reach - about what it means to be human.

Read by Rebecca Lowman with Macleod Andrews, Alex McKenna, Paul Michael, Tristan Morris, and Bronson Pinchot.

©2015 Garth Risk Hallberg (P)2015 Random House Audio

Critic reviews

" City on Fire is a big, stunning first novel and an amazing virtual reality machine, whisking us back to New York City in the 1970s with bravura swagger and style and heart . . . The ghosts of New York memorialized by earlier writers—F. Scott Fitzgerald, J. D. Salinger, Richard Price—hover over City on Fire…[In] Hallberg's XXL tool kit as a storyteller: a love of language and the handsprings he can make it perform; a bone-deep knowledge of his characters' inner lives that's as unerring as that of the young Salinger; an instinctive gift for spinning suspense. He also possesses a journalistic eye for those telling details that can trigger memories of the reader's own like small Proustian grenades…A novel of head-snapping ambition and heart-stopping power—a novel that attests to its young author's boundless and unflagging talents." ( New York Times)
"A remarkably assured, multivalent tale...an epic panorama of musicians, writers, and power brokers and the surprising ways they connect...The story never feels overwritten, and the plotlines interlace without feeling pat...At times the novel feels like a metafictional tribute to America's finest doorstop manufacturers, circa 1970 to the present: Price (street-wise cops), Wolfe (top-tier wealth), Franzen (busted families), Wallace (the seductions of drugs and pop culture), and DeLillo (the unseen forces behind everything). That's not to say Hallberg has written a pastiche.... As his various plotlines braid tighter during the July 1977 blackout, his novel becomes an ambitious showpiece for just how much the novel can contain without busting apart. The very-damn-good American novel." ( Kirkus Reviews)
"Dazzling… City on Fire is an extraordinary performance…Hallberg inhabits the minds of whites and blacks, men and women, old and young, gay and straight with equal fidelity…making every one of them thrum with real life…And what endlessly fascinating characters they are!...[The novel's] Whitmanesque arms embrace an entire city of lovers and strivers, saints and killers." ( Washington Post)

What listeners say about City on Fire

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

An Incendiary "Bleak House" in 1977 NYC

A brilliant, incendiary book set in the brazier that was New York City in 1977, like a "Municipality Infernality," an "Immolation Station."

Don't be deterred by the novel's length. If you can attain and enjoy total immersion in a place and time through the very real connections given the human mind by the magic of reading great literature, you should buy this book.

I see the similarity between "City on Fire" and a Dickens novel like "Bleak House," in that both interweave connected story lines toward solving a mystery, here a college freshman co-ed from Long Island, involved in the punk rock scene, is shot on New Year's Eve, 1976, in the Park outside a soiree' being held by a wealthy family, the Hamilton-Sweeneys. The novel culminates in the NYC blackout of mid-July 1977.

The novel's primary cast is populated by mid-the H-S patriarch's mid-30s daughter, Regan, and her husband Keith Lamplighter (Hallberg has a talent like Dickens for character names); Regan's late 20s brother, William Hamilton-Sweeney, and his boyfriend Mercer Goodman, an African-American teacher from rural Georgia; a talented, alcoholic, investigative reporter and his neighbor; the co-ed and her close friend (boyfriend?) the fiery (red-head) Charlie a/k/a The Prophet; the detective trying to solve the shooting; a serpentine uncle referred to as the "Demon Brother," and a saurian punkcubus named Nicky Chaos. Minor characters include a pill-popping, conservative radio talk jock stirring up the masses, and a punk rock band soundman named, also in Dickensian fashion, Solomon Grungy. If I have a criticism of the book, it was the short diversions to the talk radio host and the protest march he whipped up; yet, I can see where these are important to his painting a NYC aboil, making my gripe akin to a complaint there's too much timpani in a symphony.

The criticism that the novel has too many characters to follow is misplaced because of how and when each is introduced (seamlessly). And, as you'd expect from the title, New York City takes on its own calescent, then blazing, character. In CITY ON FIRE, Mr. Hallberg also shows quite a risible flare, unlike another recent, acclaimed novel set in NYC, "A Little Life" (in which I don't recall one moment of levity).

After a torrid pace on the last night of the blackout, Hallberg ties then furls the story lines together nicely, like the end of a stunning symphony.



The narration was great for all but an hour. But, oh was that hour BAD. Around mid-book, like a bag full of week-old shrimp hulls thrown into a quaint Italian restaurant, comes the most annoying narrator I've heard in hundreds of audiobooks, with the worst case of "vocal fry" I've ever heard [google "vocal fry," if you don't know]. I would understand using this speech pattern if it had been used by teenagers of the late 1970s, but it was NOT. While I don't like giving a combo of narrators a bad rating because of only one, I'd be less than honest if I didn't share with potential readers how severely disconcerting it was to have that grenade dropped into this audiobook.

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30 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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Exhausting

Wanted to really like this book: my time and my place - 70's in NYC. But it was just much too long and digressive. Narration was excellent but it's a long slog for the listener. Disappointing.

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16 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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  • kw
  • 12-22-15

Good story, poor choice of narrator

Unless you're a fan of vocal fry and alternation between surfer accent or cliche NY cop accent to differentiate various male voices of all age ranges, Rebecca Lowman's narration leaves much to be desired.

The story is a good one though.

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11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    2 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Good story; wrong narrator.

I wanted to like this book, and I tried, I really tried. I gave it two and a half hours. The characters are well written and the plot seems interesting. But the principle narrator is completely wrong for this book. She reads in the lilting voice used by most amatuer actors for Shakespeare. There's almost no variation in her rhythm: da-da-da-DA, da-da-DA-da-da, da-da-da-DA, da-da-DA-da, rinse and repeat. The lilt and the cooing sound are at odds with the plot and the characters: it's like listening to Winnie the Pooh read Tom Clancy.

I'm going to buy the hardback and enjoy this book the old-fashioned way.

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11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
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    1 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Terrible reader

Siri could read this book better than the female lead. Good book but better off reading it yourself.

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10 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

Best Book of the Year

City On Fire is the best book of the year, the decade - among the top ten in a sixty-five year reading addiction. All analysis, all praise is trite in the shade if this beautiful, insightful writing.

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8 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
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    4 out of 5 stars

Loved...Most of It

Would you listen to City on Fire again? Why?

Yes. in time. The two negatives I mention below would not keep me away.
1. I didn't enjoy the "interludes," at all. I thought they were boring and they felt self-indulgent to me.
2. Toward the end, the author jumped 20 years forward in time, at random, while the action is going on. Personally, I was invested in the period of the novel, not future small details.

Would you recommend City on Fire to your friends? Why or why not?

I would recommend it to all of my New Yorker friends, young and old. The author allows glimpses into several different worlds of NYC, and a time in history that was crazy, gritty, a hellhole of squalor; and unlike most of NYC today.

Have you listened to any of the narrators’s other performances before? How does this one compare?

Rebecca Lowman's narration gets on my nerves and was the weakest point of this Audible book. I will avoid her narrations.

If you could take any character from City on Fire out to dinner, who would it be and why?

William, of course. He was the star. He was a star.

Any additional comments?

I can already see the movie in my head

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5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

could have been great

overly long, wished it had been edited better. had trouble focusing on the story because of the many (beautifully written) details. finishing became a feat of accomplishment more than anything else.

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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

It's just too long unless you're from NYC

I'm not from New York. I'm born and raised in CA and have been in NYC twice in my life, other than airports.
This overly ambitious tale is trying too hard to weave a composite from disparate lives, just like the fireworks that make up a part of the book. And it takes forever. By the time forever is nearing its end, I'd personally like to strangle the female narrator! Too, too much blasé, too much New Yorker insider, and by the book's final chapter, I hoped they'd all jump or be blown up by the fireworks - including the narrator!
The narrator? She'd be fine for a 12 or 18 hour book. And it should be a book about socialites from her inflections. For this one? She sounded as bored as I was, but she was bored a lot sooner.
A lot not to like but a bit to like. Definitely not worth the listening time IMO.

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5 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    1 out of 5 stars

Poorly researched. Inconsistent character development.

Eventual the author will be good novelist. There are so many anachronisms that I found myself questioning everything. Including the character development and motivation. I just found I couldn't suspend my disbelief. Clearly the author had no idea what NYC was like in the 70s. And what he does know he's gleaned from Hollywood and some documentary he must have watched.
Tattoo pakora were illegal in the 70s
The pooper scooper law wasn't enacted until the late 70's. After most of the action of this book
F Lee Bailey wasn't notorious as a civil rights attorney enough for a best cop to be concerned about it in the 70s. He as working on the Patty Hearst trial.
The entire conversation around drug use and its effect on family and friends is written with the insight of the last 30 years. It wasn't until Nancy Reagan and her "Just Say No" campaign of the mid 80s that any of the insights on drug use would have been common to the general population.
And his understanding of the punk scene is absent.

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4 people found this helpful