Cover of The Flamethrowers
Rated 3.49
6,223 ratings

The Flamethrowers

By: Rachel Kushner

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Trade

Imprint: Scribner

Format: Hardcover | ISBN: 9781439142004

Other Formats:

Electronic | Audio | Trade Paperback

On Sale: | Pages: 383

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The year is 1975 and Reno so-called because of the place of her birth has come to New York intent on turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art. Her arrival coincides with an explosion of activity in the art world artists have colonized a deserted and industrial SoHo, are staging actions in the East Village, and are blurring the line between life and art. Reno meets a group of dreamers and raconteurs who submit her to a sentimental education of sorts. Ardent, vulnerable, and bold, she begins an affair with an artist named Sandro Valera, the semi-estranged scion of an Italian tire and motorcycle empire. When they visit Sandros family home in Italy, Reno falls in with members of the radical movement that overtook Italy in the seventies. Betrayal sends her reeling into a clandestine undertow. The Flamethrowers is an intensely engaging exploration of the mystique of the feminine, the fake, the terrorist. At its center is Kushners brilliantly realized protagonist, a young woman on the verge. Thrilling and fearless, this is a major American novel from a writer of spectacular talent and imagination.
The novel's strengths and weaknesses lie in the poetry and problem of speed. Ms. Kushner's prose is beautiful. It is almost too beautiful -- forcing the reader to stop to appreciate the beauty of a metaphor in a rolling passage about speeding across salt flats, or running from tear gas through the streets of Rome.... The reader is left wanting to see where Reno goes, and not clicking through a genealogical timeline of an Italian patriarch and the fate of his empire. Outside of the rootless Reno, the supporting characters feel as superficial as their droning monologues that fill pages and time, in the novel and in Reno's waiting story.
—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Kushner confidently manages huge swaths of politics and history, intersecting them with the personal lives of her characters, often through cultural or commercial motifs. And she draws interesting, wildly smart parallels between the cultural-political chaos of New York and Italy in the '70s, with Little Italy serving as a distorted mirror of defunct Old World values. All the while, Kushner fearlessly tackles the bigger questions of what constitutes authenticity, voice, identity, class, pitting the aesthetics of wealth against the pragmatics of poverty.... It is too bad, then, that so much of the novel depends on the lovers, Sandro and Reno. Their romance, sadly, is a rather dyspeptic affair, mysterious in the way all love is mysterious — who knows what lies at the core of any connection? — but unsatisfying as either a May-December romance, a convenient careerist coupling or, for that matter, true love.... The vivid specificity and authority Kushner demonstrates over the rest of her material saves the day.... But the delights of Kushner's writing cannot entirely compensate for the novel's ultimate loss of momentum.... That said, there is still plenty of enchantment to go around in this generous, ambitious and original novel.
—New York Times
Kushner deftly examines the abyss that separates workers from business owners.... Kushner's portrait of Reno is much more than a pencil sketch of a young rebel looking for a cause. It is a deeply layered depiction of a journey from appearance to reality.
—Miami Herald
Some novels grab you by the throat. Others seduce you with their intelligence and artistry. Rachel Kushner's THE FLAMETHROWERS, her second novel, is decidedly in the latter category. An intricate examination of art, revolutionary politics and the risks some people are willing to take in life and love, it gains its considerable power through the accretion of closely-observed detail and Kushner's skill at translating that into alluring prose.... This is an audacious novel, one that showcases a brave and talented writer at the top of her game.
Rachel Kushner's second novel, “The Flamethrowers,” unfolds on a bigger, brighter screen than nearly any recent American novel I can remember. It plays out as if on Imax, or simply higher-grade film stock.... One of the best things about this book, though, is how much it gets out of Reno's own head. The dialogue pops; many of the best observations are doled out to supporting characters.... Ms. Kushner has long since burned down whatever resistance you might have toward her talent or her narrative.
—New York Times
Rachel Kushner's new novel, “The Flamethrowers,” is a high-wire performance worthy of Philippe Petit.... Kushner's seductive prose is never truly surreal, but she doesn't present Reno's adventures in chronological order, which reflects the dreamlike flow of her experiences.... The breadth of Kushner's historical and critical knowledge could be oppressive if this weren't such an alluring performance. What really dazzles, though, is her ability to steer this zigzag plot so expertly that she can let it spin out of control now and then.
—Washington Post
Kushner, it should be apparent, can write like the blazes -- my copy of this novel is scarred with circled and underlined passages.... She is good at conjuring arresting imagery of her own... These sections have the force of revelation. But other passages dither, particularly conversational bouts among the Manhattan artists and hangers-on.... This delicious class tension also vibrated through "Telex From Cuba." There, Kushner had trouble finding an ending. Here she locates a strong one and rewards our heightened attention. Reno comes of age with no answers, but her questions burn.
—Cleveland Plain Dealer
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