The Flamethrowers

Rachel Kushner

The Flamethrowers

The year is 1977 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 colonised a deserted and industrial SoHo, are squatting 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. She begins an affair with an artist named Sandro Valera, the semi-estranged scion of an Italian tyre and motorcycle empire. When they visit Sandro's family home in Italy, Reno falls in with members of the radical movement that overtook Italy in 1977. Betrayal sends her reeling into a clandestine undertow. 4.4 out of 5 based on 5 reviews
The Flamethrowers

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Hardcover
Pages 400
RRP
Date of Publication June 2013
ISBN 978-1846557910
Publisher Harvill Secker
 

The year is 1977 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 colonised a deserted and industrial SoHo, are squatting 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. She begins an affair with an artist named Sandro Valera, the semi-estranged scion of an Italian tyre and motorcycle empire. When they visit Sandro's family home in Italy, Reno falls in with members of the radical movement that overtook Italy in 1977. Betrayal sends her reeling into a clandestine undertow.

Reviews

The Guardian

Hermione Hoby

This is a book supercharged with ideas – futurism, fascism, Autonomia, industrialisation, American land art, pornography – but Kushner's greatest feat is to pull off an overarching radiant coherence without anything ever feeling pat. It's deeply satisfying, too, that a novel so engaged with radicalism doesn't feel the need to experiment radically with form. A formally conventional narrative that's imaginatively incendiary, it makes any fretting over the state of the novel look plain silly.

05/05/2013

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The New Yorker

James Wood

Kushner’s title implies the kind of political equivalence that might amount to a Flaubertian ironic nullification, a nihilistic cynicism beyond politics—decades of similar rapacity, playacting, art-making, and anarchistic “offense,” all of it subsumed within the titular “flamethrowing.” Kushner, though, is anything but politically cynical, and her novel is an achievement precisely because it resists either paranoid connectedness or knowing universalism. On the contrary, it succeeds because it is so full of vibrantly different stories and histories, all of them particular, all of them brilliantly alive.

08/04/2013

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The New York Times

Dwight Garner

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 … Roy Orbison’s hair is “black as melted-down record vinyl.” Then there’s the moment at a dinner party when a man begins to sob, and a woman says: “Come on, Stanley. You devalue the tear when you do this. You really do.” This is the sound of a writer who loves to hear people talk.

17/04/2013

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The New York Times

Christina Garcia

It is too bad ... 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 … The vivid specificity and authority Kushner demonstrates over the rest of her material saves the day. Her secondary characters, and especially her crowd scenes — whether it’s the chaos of a blackout in Times Square or the melee of a protest spiraling out of control in Rome — are meticulously rendered, giving us both the discrete and the aggregate experience with perfectly modulated precision.

26/04/2013

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The Sunday Times

Robert Collins

The Flamethrowers is a strange, fascinating beast of a novel, brimming with ideas, and sustained by the muscular propulsion of Kushner’s prose. But in its latter stages, it eventually begins to sink under its own weight. Crucial turning-points in the narrative come too late to have much effect. The characterisation, too, is sketchy and episodic — Reno’s New York swarms with countless characters — meaning you’re never fully drawn into anyone. And Reno’s own story becomes rather one-note: an aspiring outsider ­trying (unsuccessfully) to insinuate herself into a wealthy family and New York’s perfidious art scene.

26/05/2013

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