Risky business

Whenever a movie bombs big time at the box office I simply can’t resist seeing it.

47 Ronin, John Carter, Jupiter Ascending, all the way back to Cutthroat Island and Waterworld – none of them are great films but they’re fascinating cultural artifacts.

I mean, how does it happen? How do the (mostly) talented and experienced people of the most sophisticated creative industry in human history blow hundreds of millions making a movie no one wants to see?

Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire is the literary equivalent of a box office flop – so naturally I just had to pick it up.

You’d think maybe his middle name would have given publishers pause, but no – Jonathan Cape gave him a $2 million advance for this, his first novel. That’s a staggering number for a debut novelist; it’s like giving a first-time director a Marvel mega-budget.

They did their best to build hype – the next Goldfinch etcetera – but appear to have been singularly unsuccessful. The 900-page opus received decidedly mixed reviews upon its release last year and has apparently sold fewer than 100,000 copies to date. Publishing pundits estimate they need to sell about 300,000 copies just to break even – and that’s cleary not going to happen.

That doesn’t mean it’s bad of course – I’ll let you know my thoughts when I get to it later this year – but I somehow doubt the story in the book is as interesting as the story of the book.



Author: adamgartrell

Political journalist drowning in books

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