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The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
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The Flamethrowers (original 2013; edition 2014)

by Rachel Kushner

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1,6208411,191 (3.4)128
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)
Member:oneandahalfbears
Title:The Flamethrowers
Authors:Rachel Kushner
Info:Vintage (2014), Paperback, 400 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:None

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The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner (2013)

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» See also 128 mentions

English (81)  Italian (1)  Danish (1)  Piratical (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (85)
Showing 1-5 of 81 (next | show all)
[b:The Flamethrowers|15803141|The Flamethrowers|Rachel Kushner|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1523541469l/15803141._SY75_.jpg|21526172] is a work of skill, bold description and strong scenes. Arty New York City in the mid-1970’s is represented in the story of Reno, a young woman trying to make it in this world by documenting photographically her motorcycle skills at the Bonneville Salt Flats. How does she fare afterwards? Her story expands to include her boyfriend Sandro’s wealthy motorcycle founding family in Milan and Red Brigade politics, an enjoyable detour. Reno is the principal character but I did not get a real sense
of her as a person. Her cohort is better characterized, for instance, the dinner party hosts, the Kastles, or her cool lovers, Ronnie and Sandro, even the Italians are better drawn in her brief visit to them. The instructions to potential realtors: “we say home not house, cellar not basement, lawn not yard” were hilarious and there were other funny bits throughout the book. The author's [b:The Mars Room|36373648|The Mars Room|Rachel Kushner|https://i.gr-assets.com/images/S/compressed.photo.goodreads.com/books/1524991696l/36373648._SY75_.jpg|57520253]struck me as more satisfying than this more detached early work. ( )
  featherbooks | May 7, 2024 |
“People who are harder to love pose a challenge, and the challenge makes them easier to love. You're driven to love them. People who want their love easy don't really want love.”

The book opens with two motorcycle rides decades and continents apart. Valera is part of an Italian motorcycle unit during WWI when he kills a German soldier with a motorcycle headlight. Decades later he will go on to form the Valera motorcycle and tyre company. Decades the novel's main character Reno, 23 years old and weirdly guileless, rides a Moto Valera motorcycle through her home state of Nevada.

Reno's moves to a listless New York in the late 1970s in the hope of turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into successful art career. There she finds prostitutes, drunks, and "Sorry, no credit" signs in the bars but her arrival also coincides with an explosion of artistic activity as artists begin to colonise the old deserted industrial areas of the city. Reno soon finds herself drawn in to a world of poseurs, dreamers and raconteurs, and becomes the lover of a successful artist who is also the estranged youngest Valera son. Reno is invited to visit Italy and the Valera factory but when she travels to the country with her lover she finds herself embroiled in bitter familial disputes, worker strikes and radicals linked with the Red Brigade. Unfortunately she later returns to New York.

This novel is a first-person narrative with minimal plot interspersed with a few third-person documentary-style chapters about Valera, founder of the Moto Valera company, that fail to really lift the whole. The most successfully section takes place in Italy, in particular at the family home of Reno's aristocratic boyfriend, Sandro. Here, Kushner portrays the rich with a sort of cruel delight. Unfortunately she later returns to New York and its poseurs.

'The Flamethrowers' is thematically ambitious. Kushner attempts to link early- and late-20th-century movements in art and political activism but fails to really achieve it. The novel starts well but sadly drifts in the middle and she fails to really pull it back afterwards. Maybe the book would have been better if it had been given a third-person narrative but in the end I found none of the characters particularly engaging and along with most modern art I found them pretentious and facile. I didn't hate this book but it didn't really interest me either. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Apr 13, 2024 |
The star rating system has its limitations. _The Flame Throwers_ feels like the the author drew a set of random topics out of a bag (land speed records in Bonneville / the New York art scene in the 70s / labor uprisings in Italy) and crafted a novel around these disparate threads. Kushner is presenting three modes of being an artist; the obsessive trainspotting type that care most about materials and methods (exemplified by Marvin and his photoshop); the art scenesters who play a role, putting artifice over authenticity (Giddle, the waitress / performance artist is a fine example of this, treating her job as a work of art as a way of coping with its mundane limitations).

Our narrator Reno is the third type. She is admirable because she is so open to experience, and takes her own feelings and instincts seriously. She is not trying to be an "artist" but rather she is driven to the creative act by a force that she doesn't really understand, like her love of speed. I think Kushner's point is that this creative drive is like falling in love; it often leads to disappointment but we have no choice in how we experience it. Our decisions are complicated and rarely rational; the only way to make sense of the world is to not close off unexpected avenues of experience and not to neglect our creative drive. ( )
  jonbrammer | Jul 1, 2023 |
Come to an in-person discussion of this book at the Willett Free Library, Saturday, March 28, at 10am. ( )
  jpe9 | Aug 4, 2022 |
A series of unfortunate events........ ( )
  Marietje.Halbertsma | Jan 9, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (11 possible)

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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Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
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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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