Garth Risk Hallberg is a relatively familiar word in the literary world, but the man behind the name is a surprisingly low key individual. His works have been published in The Pinch, Canteen, Slate, Glimmer Train, New York magazine, Prairie Schooner, The New York Times Magazine, and just recently The Millions, where he is currently a contributing editor. On the side, Garth Hallberg is a lecturer at Sarah Lawrence College, and holds an MFA from New York University and a BA from Washington University in St. Louis.
+The early beginning of Garth Hallberg
Garth was raised in Greenville, North Carolina – his mother was an English-major undergrad, while his dad was an M.F.A candidate, both of whom had met fatefully in Ohio as students. In a twisted turn of events, the East Carolina University awarded his father a tenure track position, while his mother was shelved into teaching high school. While Garth is reluctant to badmouth Greenville, he was noticeably unbefitting of the place. He admits that he felt like a freak in several ways, and home was quite uncomfortable in a completely different way. At 13, his parents were separated, and while several complicated things were going on, the norm was to pretend everything was okay. The quandary is that Garth was a very observant child, and confesses that his unusual interest in observing people contributed majorly to his interest in his job.
When he was 9, Bill, his father, published a novel titled “The Rub of the Green” in Richard Ford’s mode about a professional golfer who was imprisoned after being entangled in a love triangle. Unfortunately, much to his dismay, the book went out of print, and he never tried publishing another novel.
Scholastically, Garth Risk Hallberg was unique in several ways. As a preteenager, he thrived on mysteries, and stood out in a book club where all the members were older by at least four decades. He later graduated from high school, and to avoid idling away at home, he used the guitar of his father’s girlfriend to teach himself the Rolling Stones riffs.
When he was 16, on summer, his mother sent him off to Duke for a one-week writing program, and Garth’s life changed suddenly. He felt like he had found his people at last – misfit nerds venting their mutiny into work. Derek Teslik became his fastest friend, who went to St. Albans at the center of Washington D.C’s current hardcore scene. The next year, with his Fridays freed up for “private study”, Garth would rise up at 4:30 – his current writing time – and drive all the way to D.C for four hours. The nation’s capital was sort of his first actual metropolis, where there were all these internecine tensions and friends wondering who the beatnik road warrior was. On the other hand, his new friends probably thought of him as a laidback shape-shifter, comfortable in various skins. Walter Lambert, an alumni of St. Albans, and the best man at Garth’s wedding, recalled that he could effortlessly travel from world to world – from football game to a cocktail party to a punk scene – and blend in comfortably.
His prose still retains an impersonating impulse, something he refers to as a “Dickensian thing”. Garth Risk Hallberg did not stop his osmotic travels in Washington. His first trip to New York motivated him to compose a Frank O’Hara-mode poem cycle. At some point in the fall of ’96, Garth remembers feeling like the greatest living teenage poet in America. The natives of New York were now finding the city safe and denatured, but the inexperienced writer and his pals still found it feral.
+A field guide to the North American Family
This book follows 2 suburban families in a series of sixty three illustrated chapters. The evocative novel is represented by brief vignettes in a sequence of nonlinear entries, all complete and featuring an abstract image of whatever patriarchal death, teenage experimentation, small town indiscretion, and so on, being described on the other page. It is a creative series of pictures and singular moments that literally begs you to reread it upon completion.
The first book “An illustrated fiction” mainly revolves around the Harrisons and the Hungates, two neighboring families with similar backgrounds, residing in Long Island, New York. When a father dies from one of the families, a series of responses is triggered, leaving every family member loose. The work is very short and relies heavily on discovery and presentation, so it would be irrelevant to discuss the characters and their leads substantially. The sixty three selections are not arranged beyond the alphabetization of individual titles (Angst, Adulthood, Adolescence, Boredom, and so on).
+City on fire
To cut brusquely to the chase, City on Fire, Garth Risk’s new and much promoted 944 page novel is about 400 pages too long, as you might suspect. Garth is a talented writer, which makes the pages elapse pleasurably. The novel is a detective story that traces its roots to Dickens: a seemingly random event – the shooting of a New York University student called Samantha on New Year’s eve in Central Park – turns out to be a loose end that, when drawn, reveals a series of intrigue that connects a midtown office tower and an old, abandoned house in the East Village. There are about a dozen characters in the novel from various walks of N.Y life – an investment banker, an assistant in a gallery, a fireworks maker, a punk rocker, a school teacher, a reporter, a cop, and so forth. As the mystery is unveiled, each one of them happens to be a degree or less away from the others.
The length of the novel can be attributed to the overreliance of a technique called free indirect style – where the author focalizes the narrative through the voice and mind of a character. It is a great tool for showing experience from within, but it shapes the world into a sequence of perspectives. The first draft took three years to complete, the same period of time it took to revise the completed version. The novel sold for just below 2 million dollars in a 2 day, ten-bidder auction, and was chosen as one 2015’s Buzz Picks. Scott Rudin, The Social Network producer, bought the film rights, followed by seventeen other countries so far, including United Kingdom rights for 6 figures to Jonathan Cape.
+Garth Risk Hallberg today
Today, Garth Risk Hallberg lives with his wife and children in New York, and is a writing professor at the Sarah Lawrence College located in Bronxville, New York. He is a 2 time finalist in the Balakian award for excellence in book reviewing for the National Book Critics. Mr. Garth Hallberg, who just turned thirty seven, was profiled in The Guardian, Interview, New York Magazine, and Vogue (in which he posed morosely in a Comme des Garcons blazer and an Ami Alexandre Mattiussi coat, and was branded the author of the most awaited novel of the year).Book Series In Order » Authors » Garth Risk Hallberg