Thursday, November 6, 2014

Rachel Kushner: The Flamethrowers

A young woman comes of age on a motorcyle

1970s Art Scene in New York
     Italian Motorcycles, the downtown New York art scene of the 1970s, American youth revolts of the 1960s, Italian worker/consumer/student/kidnapper-you-name-it revolts of the 1970s, the Land Artists, May-August romances, artists whose persona/story reveals their art, a young woman of talent
discovering her self-awareness, and the list could go on.  The Flamethrowers (2013) was nominated for a number of literary awards.  The most thrilling element is how Rachel Kushner captures the voice of a young woman pushing herself to her limits physically, emotionally, intellectually, and politically.  I didn’t want this book to end.  I’d love to see it as a movie. 

     Kushner captures various groups of people with the cool, analytical gaze of an anthropologist, even though her main character Reno wants to be both a part of each group and apart from each group.  She nails the artistic impulse and the way in which it can be revealed in geniuses and charlatans.  In some cases, individuals can wear both of those masks at different times.  

     Kushner’s writing feels influenced by Don DeLillo and Shirley Hazzard.  Like DeLillo, she focuses on a protagonist, though female rather than male, relating to various groups of people and connecting social connections to over-riding political philosophies.  Unlike DeLillo, her narrative is set in the past like Hazzard’s novels.  Kushner employs a slightly tricky ending like The Transit of Venus (1980).  The book doesn’t end chronologically.  Instead, the final image shows Reno in a moment of epiphany contemplating what it means to be an aware and intelligent American in Europe at a psychological and emotional crossroads.

Volatile Italian Poltics
    Okay, after waffling on like some nervous graduate student, it’s the best yummy smart romance novel I’ve read in years, maybe since Wally Lamb’s She’s Come Undone (1992).  Except for one glitch – “Take this Job and Shove it” was released after the New York City blackout of 1977, not before – it’s lovely.

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