Weighing in at 911 pages, this book can’t hold a candle to A Little Life (see previous review). I listened to it – 38 hours! City on Fire is a monumental first novel from a young writer, with a bright future. It’s all about New York City, from 1960 to approximately 1990, most of it focused around 1977 and the New York blackout. (Side note – I was stranded in an airplane at the end of the runway at LaGuardia when the lights went out. I buddied up with some other industrious travelers, found a cab to take us to a nearby motel, helped to empty their bar and slept in a sort of ok bed, rather than the floor at the airport. Made it to Miami the next morning.)
The saga is multi-generational, multi-class – stretching from middle class Long Island, to the drugs and anarchy of Hell’s Kitchen and Alphabet City, to the rich and bereft in the Upper East Side and Wall Street. As with any good fiction, these element all link together in epic fashion, most of it plausible. The “fires” of the title are set in abandoned buildings in the Bronx by the punks who want to show up the injustice of the haves vs the have nots. What they end up doing is devaluing the properties even further so financiers (Wall Street and Upper East Side) can have huge blocks of property condemned for blight. Then they step in, buy it for pennies and build anew. Ah, the naiveté of the young.