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.
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Stories come gushing out of this book
Motorcycle ride through the counterculture 70's
When I decided to listen to The Flamethrowers I was guardedly hopeful that the world Rachel Kushner was brazened enough to tackle, the world of gritty, downtown New York in the 1970’s, would live up to my expectations. Expectations set high since I am long time resident of lower Manhattan with an appreciation of art and counter intuitive thinking, both central elements of that place and time. She did not disappoint. Ms. Kushner’s knowledge of art, the people and places that made up the scene and the meticulous research of events swirling in the 70’s is spot on. This allowed her to recreate with accuracy the mood of deserted cobblestoned streets and dilapidated lofts, populated by colorfully independent, smart and destructive urban nomads.
Ms. Kushner is not only an imaginative story teller weaving truths with flights of fantasies but she has the ability to write in loving prose beautifully rendering even the grimy haunts of counterculture New York as it teeters on the edge of anarchy and bankruptcy.
The story shifts gears as smoothly as a high performance motorcycle as it speeds across the salt flats from New York to Italy and the South Pacific. To enhance the mood of the 70’s, she creates a loosely structured plot like time itself, made up of rivulets of events that swirl and mingle into the larger river of time and history. This coupled with the sultry voice of narrator Christina Traister, giving life to Reno, our guide on this odyssey as she shares her experiences with the cool, objectivity of an anthropologist makes The Flamethrowers an entoxicating motorcycle ride that speeds us out of a place of conformity to a world of intellectual possibilities. This is a ride with all the excitement and uncertainty of the open road. A ride worth taking.