Monday, October 31, 2016
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
Reno drifts to New York as she drifts through every phase of her life. She loves speed and has, in her short life, been a competition skier and a motorcycle rider pushing the limit of speed. She even has the world speed record in a car on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Yet that speed and the focus needed for racing seems nonexistent in her daily life. She knows no one in New York City and has a few ideas to express her artistic vision, but really, that vision is still undefined.
Somehow, she falls in with a crowd of successful artists, artists who are currently on the cutting edge of the art scene. Her lover, Sandro Valera, is the son of an immensely rich Italian family whose money comes from tires and rubber, their trademark the motorcycles that Reno loves. Her best friend is working as a waitress as a life performance piece but now seems stuck in that life. Ronnie, who is also Sandro's best friend, comes from the same impoverished background as Reno. She, Sandro and Ronnie have a strange triad relationship.
In the background, rebellion is rising, both in the art world and worldwide. Students are rising as are workers. When Sandro and Reno go to Italy to visit his family, Reno is given an eye-opening look at what Sandro's life really is. She drifts into the Italian student radical life for a while then eventually moves back to New York.
This book received a lot of praise. It was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award, a Top Ten book of The New York Times Book Review, and a Time magazine top ten book of the year. Kushner's writing is lyrical, the descriptions instantly transporting the reader into various settings where they can feel the speed of a racing motorcycle, the emptiness of an opening art galley, the frustration and infighting of a radical movement. She captures the feeling of a young person floating through various environments as they search to determine their own identity. This book is recommended for readers of literary fiction.