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

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Friday, January 22, 2016

Should an editor have cut City on Fire?

Noticing FB posts on the worst sentences in Garth Risk Hallberg's City on Fire - and there some horrible Hallbergians, no doubt, but really that's a stupid way to have at a novel. His middle name is appropriate; he does take risks, with his prose, with his structure, with the whole enterprise, and sometimes they totally fail but there are also some very fine passages - I noted yesterday the heroin passage, and there are others, such as description of the city streets with rotting mulberries on the sidewalks, the particular grungy look and feel backstage at a punk concert, the scent of New York in summer, garbage and tar ... and in any of these passages you could probably pull out a sentence that, out of context, makes no sense. The more justified critique could be: do we need all those passages? Or, should this novel be shorter? It's an example of anti-editing - but to edit, trim, cut would have made this novel into that which it isn't: another story about innocents arriving in the city and trying in their various ways to figure out who they are and how the fit, or don't. This is a novel of multiplicity - as noted yesterday, each of the back-story chapters in section 2 could probably stand alone as a short story, and each represents a path the GRH could have taken but didn't. Yes, City on Fire is probably too long, but to shorten it would kill it. Its magnificence, its grandeur, is its gargantuan size. It's not for every reader, and I'm still not sure it's even for me - why am I not reading Bleak House? - and I still might abandon it at some point if he doesn't pretty soon get back to the center of the plot, the crime he put into motion in part 1 - but really would I be reading this if it were 400 pages? Would I even have heard of it? It could flop, but it would do so in thunder. He isn't the only one taking a risk.

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