Michiko Kakutani, tireless New York Times book critic, has high praise today for City on Fire, the debut novel by Garth Risk Hallberg. It is, Kakutani writes, “an amazing virtual reality machine, whisking us back to New York City in the 1970s”:
that gritty, graffitied era when the city tottered on the brink of bankruptcy, when the Bronx was burning and Central Park was a shabby hunting ground for muggers, and the Son of Sam was roaming the streets.
“Although Mr. Hallberg is only 36, he’s somehow managed to evoke all this,” Kakutani marvels. Indeed! It’s a marvel that a mere child of 36 was able to conjure these precise period details—a burning Bronx, graffiti, the Son of Sam—from the distant realm of 1977, a world that existed three full years before he was born.
But how do those references that so impressed Kakutani compare to the virtual-reality-machine fuel provided by an artist who was alive and present in the era? Specifically, how does Hallberg’s vision of the 1970s sliding toward the 1980s compare to Billy Joel’s?
See if you can tell the difference—if any!—between the items mentioned in Kakutani’s review of City on Fire and the items mentioned in Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire”:
How did you do?