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Non 1001 Book Review – City on Fire Garth Risk Hallberg


Has it come to this “great American novel?” Are you cliche? Are we? I know one thing, this book is.

City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg
Published in: 2015
Reviewed by: Nicole
Rating: ★★
Find it here: City on Fire

Cliched characters tell this MASSIVE tale from their varying perspectives. The 1%ers, the junkie artist, the nerdy teen who got in with the in-crowd, the rock star vigilante, the black, gay lover, the evil step family, the quasi-Asian chick whose role was to be quasi-Asian, the detective with a heart of gold, the burnout reporter, the burnout fireworker, the burnout burnout, the “cool girl” and her myriad lovers including the husband of that 1%er … There were interludes, and an epigraph, a prologue, facsimiles, evidence, seven books and 98 chapters. And the vocabulary …

At one point somebody told a character “You’re being obstreperous”. Oh, am I? Well I’m so sorry. Let me just look that word up in the dictionary to see what it means so I can stop being it. You ersatz(1) eponymous(2) exegesis (2) elegiac (1)!

Every idea this guy ever had is in this book, and every word he ever learned.

There’s a part early on where the not cool/cool kid has to pee. And it keeps getting brought up over like 3 pages, until finally this: “There was a steady ache now in the region just behind his (sic) beltbuckle; systems of hydraulic tubes and reservoirs whose names he’d failed to learn in first-period bio were asserting their demands; if he didn’t relieve the pressure right now … ”


Oh, and by the way … This book took place in the 70’s. And I strongly feel that it was set in the 70’s so that the author had the freedom from technology. One of the characters said “that’s a thing right?” – you know what’s not a “thing” in the 70’s, asking if something is a “thing.” EDITORS!!!

The story (and/or 25 hours of my life I’ll never get back) was as trite as the rest of it. And we won’t go into the pretentious blather about art, or the mysterious inclusion of Zig Ziglar as a character.

There was one point where a bunch of the main characters ended up in a detectives office at the same time. So. Utterly. Improbable. It reminded me of the scene in “What’s Up Doc?” (which I just watched on YouTube, and is great) where all the characters ended up in the courtroom at the end of the movie. Hilarious. Farcical. But this book wasn’t slapstick comedy. It wasn’t even very interesting. The first part sucked me in and I felt like I wanted to finish, but it was a mistake.

There could have been a good story in here, (maybe?) if the book was half the length with far fewer characters. Or if anybody bothered to edit it. For Pete’s sake, the guy got a 2 million dollar advance.


It was painful. And you know what else is painful? My systems of hydraulic tubes and reservoirs; and you know what that means; that’s right, I have to pee ….

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Lynsey #

    You just lightened my tbr list by a book! Thanks for that!


    May 2, 2016
  2. Gwen #

    Well. That sounds awful.


    May 2, 2016
  3. “Every idea this guy ever had is in this book, and every word he ever learned.”
    I just HOWLED at this review.


    May 5, 2016
  4. There’s something wrong with me because when I read reviews like this, part of me want to read it and see if I hate it as much as the reviewer. Since we generally agree on books, that would probably be a bad idea. Then again, I own a signed copy. To read or not to read…

    And hilarious review BTW.


    May 5, 2016
  5. Obstreperous is one of my favourite words. I want to make you a T-shirt with “I’M OBSTREPEROUS” on it, Nicole!

    Like Jen, part of me wants to read it. Thankfully, I already have a year’s worth of books on my TBR.


    May 6, 2016
  6. Chris #

    Dear Nicole I totally agree with your comments. Obstreperous is preposterous 😉
    I’ll quote you “the first part sucked me in…..”
    I was looking for this Zig Zigler and I came across your review.
    I reached the fireworks part 2 (page 747/906+), I’m fed up and however I’ll try and suffer through the end, just to “boire le calice jusqu’à la lie”


    October 27, 2019

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