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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bailing Out: Sorry, but I'm not going to finish reading City on Fire, here's why

One-third of the way through City on Fire and, sorry, but that's about it. There's a good story lurking in here somewhere, and there are some wonderful descriptions that capture the looks, feel, scent of New York streets, subways, apartments in the late 1970s, but by this point I feel that the Garth Risk Hallberg is just pumping out information and that's fine if you want to just lay back and read a 900-page novel but so much of the middle section of the book to me feels like filler: the long back stories on the many characters, central and peripheral, each of which feels somehow generic; the tedium about the punk rock band and the political harangues of Nicky, the band and cult leader, which also feels like familiar ground (Goon Squad, perhaps?), long interpolations such as what purports to be a New Yorker-esque magazine article on the fireworks industry but just to me seemed tedious and distracting. In short, this novel's too long! I do think, oddly enough, that it might have a chance as a miniseries - which would inevitably focus more on plot, would trim the dialogue, would make each of the characters more distinct (from one another - they tend to blend and confuse, partly because of the proliferation and partly because, except in the broadest social terms - rich v poor, young v old - they're not clearly enough delineated). For similar novels that handle this diverse material - portrait of NYC in time of crisis and turbulence as seen through multiple lenses - check Bonfire of the Vanities or Let the Great World Spin, for just two examples that work very well because the connections among the character are more organic, the plot is more fully developed, and the characters are more sharply differentiated so that each adds something other than length and bulk.

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