Rachel Kushner’s first novel, Telex from Cuba, was nominated for a National Book Award and reviewed on the cover of The New York Times Book Review. Her second novel, even more ambitious and brilliant, is the riveting story of a young artist and the worlds she encounters in New York and Rome in the mid-1970s—by turns underground, elite, and dangerous.
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.
The Flamethrowers is an intensely engaging exploration of the mystique of the feminine, the fake, the terrorist. At its center is Kushner’s brilliantly realized protagonist, a young woman on the verge. Thrilling and fearless, this is a major American novel from a writer of spectacular talent and imagination.
About the Author
Rachel Kushner is the author of Telex From Cuba (2008) and The Flamethrowers (2013), both of which were finalists for the National Book Award. Prior to becoming a novelist, she was an editor at both Grand Street and BOMB. She lives in Los Angeles.
“I loved Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers.”
“Rachel Kushner’s fearless, blazing prose ignites the 70s New York art scene and Italian underground of The Flamethrowers.”
“Rachel Kushner’s second novel, The Flamethrowers, is scintillatingly alive, and also alive to artifice. It ripples with stories, anecdotes, set-piece monologues, crafty egotistical tall tales, and hapless adventures: Kushner is never not telling a story… it manifests itself as a pure explosion of now: it catches us in its mobile, flashing present, which is the living reality it conjures on the page at the moment we are reading… Kushner employs a[n]…eerie confidence throughout her novel, which constantly entwines the invented with the real, and she often uses the power of invention to give her fiction the authenticity of the reportorial, the solidity of the historical…Kushner watches the New York art world of the late seventies with sardonic precision and lancing humor, using Reno’s reportorial hospitality to fill her pages with lively portraits and outrageous cameos…[Kushner’s] 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.”
“The Flamethrowers unfolds on a bigger, brighter screen than nearly any recent American novel I can remember. It plays out as if on Imax, or simply higher-grade film stock…Ms. Kushner can really write. Her prose has a poise and wariness and moral graininess that puts you in mind of ….Robert Stone and Joan Didion…[Kushner has] a sensibility that’s on constant alert for crazy, sensual, often ravaged beauty…persuasive and moving…provocative.”
“Life, gazed at with exemplary intensity over hundreds of pages and thousands of sentences precision-etched with detail—that’s what The Flamethrowers feels like. That’s what it is. And it could scarcely be better. The Flamethrowers is a political novel, a feminist novel, a sexy novel, and a kind of thriller…Virtually every page contains a paragraph that merits—and rewards—rereading."
“Rachel Kushner’s new novel, The Flamethrowers, is a high-wire performance worthy of Philippe Petit. On lines stretched tight between satire and eulogy, she strolls above the self-absorbed terrain of the New York art scene in the 1970s, providing a vision alternately intimate and elevated…[Kushner is] a superb recent-historical novelist…20 brilliant pages [of The Flamethrowers] could make any writer’s career: a set piece of New York night life that’s a daze of comedy, poignancy and violence…What really dazzles…is her ability to steer this zigzag plot so expertly that she can let it spin out of control now and then…The Flamethrowers concludes with two astonishing scenes: one all black, one all white, as striking as any of the desert photographs Reno aspires to shoot, but infinitely richer and more evocative. Hang on: This is a trip you don’t want to miss.”
“[A] big, rich wonder of a novel… [Kushner’s] polychrome sentences…are shot through with all the longing and regret you find in those of Thomas Pynchon, whose influence is all over this novel… a glittering, grave, brutally unsentimental book that’s spectacularly written enough to touch greatness.”
“Exhilarating…it’s impossible not to be pulled in by the author’s sense of the period’s vitality…the novel’s brilliance is in its understanding of art’s relationship to risk, and in its portrait of Reno’s—and New York’s—age of innocence.”
“[A] brilliant lightning bolt of a novel…The Flamethrowers is an entire world, intimately and convincingly observed, filled with characters whose desires feel true. It is also an uncannily perceptive portrait of our culture—psychologically and philosophically astute, candid about class, art, sex and the position of women—with a deadly accuracy that recalls the young Joan Didion, and that, despite the precisely rendered historical backdrop, gives the story a timeless urgency.”
“A white-hot ember of a book…”