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The Flamethrowers (2013)

by Rachel Kushner

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,2527810,930 (3.39)114
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 Sandro's 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. - from cover p. [2]… (more)
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English (74)  Spanish (1)  Piratical (1)  Danish (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (78)
Showing 1-5 of 74 (next | show all)
Speed, motorcycles and the New York art scene during the 1970s combine with leftist revolutionaries in Italy in Kushner's novel, making for a pleasurable immersion into another era full of fascinating characters. More here. ( )
  markflanagan | Jul 13, 2020 |
Some great passages with unique descriptions and turns of phrase. But about 100 pages too long... that last quarter of the book took me from "this is great writing!" to "who cares?" ( )
  joecanas | May 1, 2020 |
I found it hard to engage with this book and if I had used the Nancy Pearl rule I would have not finished it but if I followed that rule I would miss out on a lot of good books. That being said, I am not sure this was a good book. It was such a mixture of stuff and a bit disconnected at times. Perhaps it was too ambitious. Rachel Kushner can write, that is obvious. This book can be called a coming of age book for the main character, Reno (nickname), we never know who she really is; we know she grew up in Reno, Nevada, that she skied competition, that she liked motorcycles and adventures and men who don't commit to her. It's also historical with it settings of WWI, 1960/70s. It is also a book about social class with the working class, the artists, and the owners of industry. I liked how having recently read Memory of Fire by Galeano added to the section that is set in Brazil and tapping rubber trees in the jungle by indigenous people used as slaves who think they will be paid and never will. The book also explores culture, a culture of violence and art.

So does this book have merit? Does it belong on the 1001 list? Why did the editors pick it? I am happy to have it off my TBR but it was a chore to read.

4 - Legacy - Coming of age, cultural exploration of feminist, violence, art
3 - Plot disjointed, too ambitious in places
3 - characters were developed in bits and pieces to the end of book
2 - hard to engage, almost quit, but the author is able to write good prose
4 - National Book Award Finalist, 1001 Books, Etc
Rating 3.2 ( )
  Kristelh | Apr 4, 2020 |
Book Review-The Flamethrowers
Rachel Kushner

A young woman, 23 years old, with an appetite for adventure and life. A native of Nevada, Reno, as she comes to be known as, a skier adept too on motorcycles, escapes to New York with a degree in the arts and an interest in film making.

The 1970s, New York City serves as a major setting for this novel. Reno, a starving artist, an attractive woman, with gapped teeth that makes her look even more unique and appealing quickly gets involved with the downtown art scene.

By chance she ends up at dinner one night with wealthy art collectors and a handsome artist, she tags along, to El Quixote, a Spanish restaurant in the Chelsea Hotel and from there she is on her way. She meets a successful artist, an heir to an Italian car and tire company.

She sets a world speed record on the salt flats of Nevada back in NYC, she attends downtown parties, meeting artists, collectors, gallerists, hanger-oners and community agitators from the Lower East Side. This is NYC when it was on its heels, a place of promise when people could create their own destinies.

From New York, she and Sandro her lover and heir to a car company, travel to Lake Como, a vacation with his family which quickly dissolves into the labor unrests and Red Brigades. Reno, becoming aware of her secondary role to the men in her life, leaves Sandro trading in his charisma for that of a Red Brigade activist.

In part this is a story of its time and place. A time when the culture became disrupted. Old power relationships were upended. Women, dependent on men for prestige and comfort, were on the cusp of their own independence and power, and Reno becomes a representative of that struggle.

After Sandro loses her due to his own indiscretions, he recognizes himself as the “asshole” he has become: “he might have loved her Leave it at that. Something that might have been but was not, that he could have sustained but didn’t”.

Sandro becomes the representation of the failed man, a man who seemingly had everything, but his life was empty of a soul. His rich, cynical, fascist father had been the poorest of role models. Ironically it was he, the rich scion, who “was born on the wrong side of things. The anger and radical acts of the young people in Rome were a kind of electricity, an act and a refusal and a beauty, something Italian that was, for once, magnificent”.

As the novel ends, Reno finds herself coupled with Gianni, the Red Brigade activist, whom she assists in escaping to France: “I’d been listening to men talk since I arrived in NYC. That’s what men liked to do. Talk. Profess like experts, when one finally came along who didn’t say much, I listened.”

Waiting for Gianni on the French side of the slopes of Mont Blanc. She continues to wait but he never shows up. The book ends with Reno, wiser, free and independent: “I have to find an arbitrary point inside the spell of waiting, the open absence, and tear myself away. Leave with no answer. Move on to the next question.” ( )
  berthirsch | Dec 17, 2019 |
The 1970s New York art scene, revolutionary Italian social movements, land speed trials on the Bonneville Salt Flats, art as object or performance, design in art and engineering — Rachel Kushner’s novel is a swirling maelstrom turning us about, offering glimpses of fleeting moments and rapidly spinning us onward. Reno is a young, beautiful, student of artfilm set on making it in New York. She’s also a former downhill skier, motorcycle racer, and student of Italian. At first the art world of New York seems impenetrable, but then she slowly begins to work her way in through cracks and crevices, all the while both seeming and believing herself to still be on the outside, even when her relationship with Sandro Valera takes her to the heart of all her interests. A heart which is bound to be broken.

Kushner fills these pages with startlingly vivid characters whose interests and appetites come close to overwhelming the story, such as it is. From the well spun anecdotes of Ronnie, which may be his real art form, to the lived performance by Giddle as a diner waitress, to the huge loft apartments in the Bowery which even artists could still afford in the 70s, to the openings, the after parties, and the violence of near-nihilism that underwrote much of what passed as art. It’s a world unto itself, and as such both unbelievable and entirely convincing. All rendered in neon-poetic prose. A remarkable piece of writing.

Recommended. ( )
  RandyMetcalfe | Feb 5, 2019 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Kushner, Rachelprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Biekmann, LidwienTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Strick, CharlotteCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
FAC UT ARDEAT
Dedication
This book is for Cynthia Mitchell.

And for Anna, wherever she is (and probably isn't).
First words
He killed him with a motorbike headlamp (what he had in his hand).
Quotations
Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Menschen, die schwerer zu lieben sind, stellen eine Herausforderung dar, und die Herausforderung macht es einfacher, sie zu lieben. Man fühlt sich dazu getrieben. Wer die Liebe einfach haben will, der will eigentlich gar keine Liebe.
"O Gott, das tut mir so leid. Liebe ist furchtbar. Sie ruiniert alles Normale, alles außer sich selbst. Sie macht dich verrückt, und das alles für nichts und wieder nichts, weil sie so enttäuschend ist. Aber viel Glück damit."
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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 Sandro's 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. - from cover p. [2]

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The year is 1977 and Reno has come to New York intent on turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art. Her arrival coincides with an explosion or activity in the art world and Reno falls in with 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 heir of an Italian motorcycle empire. When they visit Sandro's family home in Italy, Reno becomes involved with members of the radical movement that overtook Italy in 1977. Betrayal sends her reeling into a clandestine undertow.
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