'Empire City,' New Novel by Alumnus Matt Gallagher '13 Available for Pre-Order

Audrey Deng
April 22, 2020

The novel Empire City by alumnus Matt Gallagher ’13 is available for pre-order at Bookshop, an online bookstore that supports local, independent bookstores. Pre-orders begin shipping on April 28.

Empire City takes place thirty years after the United States’ “great triumph” in Vietnam. The summary on the website reads, “The United States has again become mired in an endless foreign war overseas. Stories of super soldiers known as the Volunteers tuck in little American boys and girls every night. Yet domestic politics are aflame. Violent protests erupt throughout the nation; an ex-military watchdog group clashes with police while radical terrorists threaten to expose government experiments within the veteran rehabilitation colonies. Halfway between war and peace, the Volunteers find themselves waiting for orders in the vast American city-state, Empire City.”

The story revolves around a core group of characters: Sebastian Rios, a young bureaucrat wrestling with survivor’s guilt; Mia Tucker, a wounded army pilot-turned-Wall Street banker; Jean-Jacques Saint-Preux, and a Haitian-American Volunteer from the International Legion. Amidst all this, a woman runs for president. “Through it all, a controversial retired general emerges as a frontrunner in the presidential campaign, promising to save the country from itself. Her election would mean unprecedented military control over the country, with promises of security and stability—but at what cost?”

Kirkus Reviews describes the book as “[a]n admirable diversion into alternative history and humanity’s inherent nature that plays to the author’s strengths.” For Simon & Schuster, Tim O’Brien, author of The Things We Carriedcalls Empire City “a passionate, scary, wise, and perhaps even prophetic novel, one that can be appreciated on numerous levels. Set in an alternate world in which the U.S. has emerged triumphant from the Vietnam War, this book has the feel of a powerful admonition and warning, but it also has the dislocating, heart-thumping feel of a nightmare. Matt Gallagher has populated his story with characters undergoing ferocious moral struggles in response to an America teetering on the edge of cataclysm."

'Empire City' book cover

Gallagher’s works have received tremendous support in the past. His first book, the memoir Kaboom: Embracing the Suck in a Savage Little War (2010), was praised by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times for “[Gallagher’s] love of language, acquired as an avid reader, and his elastic voice as a writer - his ability to move effortlessly between the earnest and the irreverent, the thoughtful and the comic." Gallagher’s novel Youngblood (2016) was also reviewed by Kakutani, who writes, “On one level, the novel is a parable — with overtones of Graham Greene’s The Quiet American — about the United States and Iraq and the still unfurling consequences of the war. On another, it’s a story about how we tell stories to friends and strangers, trying to convey experiences they will never know firsthand, and how we tell ourselves stories to reckon with the past — or, perhaps, to live with painful memories that are difficult, if not impossible, to assuage.”

Gallagher is a Wake Forest graduate and US Army veteran. In January 2017, Elizabeth Warren read his Boston Globe op-ed “Trump Rejects the Muslims Who Helped Us” on the floor of the US Senate. He has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Esquire, and The Paris Review. He lives with his wife and son in Brooklyn.