When I started this blog, I toyed between writing about first or second books and decided to go with debut novels and memoirs, as they are easier to find (debut usually being noted in an ad or review) and debuts are often overlooked by traditional reviewers. But in the last few months, I’ve read about second books that look intriguing and I decided that on occasion I will write about one that seems particularly notable. Hence, the “two review.”
Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers has gotten wide spread critical acclaim and is full of themes I like to read about – art, politics and female identity, and is set in New York and Italy, two places I am fond of. So I picked it up and found myself immediately draw to the hardback cover:
Reno is a young woman, just out of college with an art degree, who moves to New York in 1975 to pursue her photography and filmmaking. Living in SoHo she meets a diverse range of people — artists, art dealers, filmmakers, a diner waitress and your general art world tag-alongs. As the story unfolds she falls for Sandro Valera, an older Italian artist from a wealthy family, goes to Nevada, where she rides a motorcycle in a time trial across the desert, and then to Italy. Interspersed with her story is the back-story of the Valera family, starting with Sandro’s father who founded a motorcycle business in Milan.
There are moments of sublime beauty in this book. Kushner’s writing is elegant and moving. Reno finds her way in a new world and there are insightful lines about art, art creation, intimacy and human connection. Kushner has been called one of the best writers of this century for this book, and for the most part she comes through. But while she has garnered a lot of critical success, I noted that on Good Reads her reviews were more mixed. And I think that is because this book is more about a place (NYC) and a time period (the late 70s), than it is about a character or a personal journey. It is a beautifully rendered book, with compelling and unique characters, but without a strong, linear plot.
I was happy to find a first edition of this book at a new independent bookstore that recently opened in my neighborhood, PowerHouse on 8th.