Kushner's writing is authoritative and vivid, as exciting to read as the worlds she writes about. I could not put this down; it was intoxicating reading about a young woman making her way in worlds in which women don't usually get to exist, even in fiction. A cinematic, unstoppable, alienated and kick-fueled adventure.
A nameless young woman, a motorcycle-riding land artist, leaves Nevada and lands in New York City in the late seventies. The city in which she finds herself is plagued with blackouts, a desolate landscape: the leftovers of industrial ruin dominate a pre-gentrified Soho populated by underground anti-heroes, former Factory starlets, and macho conceptual artists.
This is not just a coming of age novel, the tale of a young girl in the city, though it is that too. It contains digressions on Italian futurism and its intersections with fascism and industry, the tyranny of the class system, colonial oppression in Brazil, the Bonneville speed trials and the violent uprisings of youth and workers in Italy in the seventies.
—Recommended by Layla, City Lights Books
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.