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    Long-winded and intense

    The thing about City on Fire is it is a veritable treasure trove of obscure vocabulary and characters whose observations could sometimes be startlingly familiar. There were such clever, vivid descriptions that sometimes it felt like I was reading a David Mitchell novel. But whereas Mitchell's work always seems to be very confident and self-directed, this got ahead of itself and tripped over its own ambition. And there were such promising threads and story arcs! The basic premise is that you are following a few distinct groups of people in 1970s New York - an upper class wealthy family and their offshoots (and issues), a group of punk destructivist 20-somethings, and some peripheral art scene/law enforcement characters as they try to unravel a shooting that takes place on New Years Eve. Connections are revealed gradually and you could almost feel like there was this neat little resolution just a few pages away - but the large cast of narrators could never get organized enough to make that a reality. I know that this was Mr. Hallberg's first novel, and I think the author's skill is there and quite impressive - with a little bit richer characterization and plot (and also, maybe, a little brevity - this book didn't need all 900+ pages) he will no doubt find himself on some award lists in the future.

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