The race to be the next Jonathan Franzen thunders on, with Garth Risk Hallberg a shoo-in for that coveted Time Magazine front cover “Great American Novelist” position. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen. Because Knopf and Jonathan Cape already have, paying respectively $2 million and a “a substantial six-figure deal” for his first full novel, the 900-page City on Fire. Oh, I do hope they’re not taking too much of a … you know … risk?
Some choice quotes from the NYT and Guardian coverage on Hallberg and his debut novel: “Off the charts in its ambition, its powers of observation, its ability to be at once intellectual and emotionally generous” – Diana Miller, editor at Knopf
“It’s a large, spacious and extremely ambitious novel. It has a richness to it, and that was really what I responded to almost immediately” – Sonny Mehta, chairman and editor in chief at Knopf
“[City on Fire is] the only thing people are talking about in the industry … It’s a distillation of great American writing,” he said. “You can feel people like Don DeLillo, James Baldwin, Tom Wolfe and Patti Smith animating the writing” – Alex Bowler, Hallberg’s UK editor
There, I’ve done the blurb writer’s job for him. And that saves me having to worry about my homework next time I want to drop in on a London publishing conversation. All I need to do is bone up on Hallberg.
Disclaimer: Hallberg may actually be a very good writer; he may even transcend all the hype. He has a proven pedigree in shorter fiction writing. That said, an awful lot of people appear to have an interest in having something like him around. Someone who writes books with titles like A Field Guide to the North American Family. (So reminiscent of The Corrections.) Someone who writes about North Americans. And Families. And New York. Someone who brings back that Bonfire of the Vanities buzz without having to be Tom Wolfe. Someone for your publicity machine to hyperventilate over. Someone you can pour buckets of money over without having to answer too many awkward questions from the board. Someone young, but not too young. Edgy, but not too edgy. And not too … you know, non-white.
And City on Fire, all 900 pages of it, is now going to go into hibernation until 2015, according to The Guardian, while Hallberg concentrates on “fine-tuning” it. I hope no one runs out of breath before then.
Who can honestly worry about the crisis in publishing or fret over Amazon’s plans for global domination when Knopf is happy to throw $2 million at the wall to see if it sticks? Plus ca change.