The Flamethrowers
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The Flamethrowers

3.46 of 5 stars 3.46  ·  rating details  ·  9,109 ratings  ·  1,315 reviews
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....more
Hardcover, 383 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by Scribner (first published 2013)
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Justin Evans
Much of this book just isn't very good, indeed, it's quite bad. Much of this book is also great, not in the sense of 'very good,' but in the sense of Great American Novel. A more tech-savvy reviewer could insert a Venn diagram here, but I'm limited to words: there's too much overlap between the 'great' bits and the 'not good' bits. Really great Great Books manage to be both good (i.e., competent) and great (i.e., fascinating) at the same time, viz., Muriel Spark at her best. Failed great books a...more
Melanie
The critic James Wood in his review for the New Yorker pin-points it perfectly:

"Rachel Kushner’s second novel, “The Flamethrowers” (Scribner), 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 is nominally a historical novel (it’s set in the mid-seventies), and, I suppose, also a realist one (it works within the traditional grammar of veris...more
Wendy
Reading this was like sitting in the back of a cab. You're pretty sure you're headed SOMEWHERE but the way is circuitous, confusing and sometimes nonsensical. It drives just like a cab, quick accelerations that slam you into the seat and jarring stops that throw you into your seatbelt, none of it for a good reason. Maybe, you think, this kind of slam start/slam stop driving has a purpose? Maybe saves gas? Maybe cruel fun at the expense of the rider? Maybe simple distraction...oops...car ahead, s...more
switterbug (Betsey)
There isn’t much plot in this novel, but it is a hell of story/Bildungsroman of a young woman known as just Reno, an art studies graduate in 1977 who dared to race her Moto Valera motorcycle at high-speed velocities to create land art. Land art was a “traceless art” created from leaving an almost invisible line in the road from surging speeds at over 110 mph. “Racing was drawing in time.” Literally and figuratively.

This era generated a seminal movement in New York where artistic expression in th...more
Hilary
No matter how young and hip you think you are, every so often, some cultural product that you don’t get at all gets rave reviews and some measure of success, indicating that the world has turned and left you behind, transforming you instantly into an aged grump who mutters things about “the kids these days.” Well, now I’m telling The Flamethrowers to get off of my lawn.

This book is covered with glowing reviews (albeit from authors like Karen Russell - another cultural product I don’t get - and D...more
Michael
Apr 27, 2014 Michael rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Michael by: Melanie Frances
I love the cinematic flow of this book , with a young female lead character, Reno, who passes through life leaving few marks. She is a recent art school graduate from Nevada who moves to New York in the late 70’s where she becomes immersed in the ferment of an art scene full of poseurs and prodigies (think Andy Warhol’s Factory and the high tide of bohemian types taking lofts in Soho). As we start the book, her mind is on the traces in the Bonneville Salt Flat she hopes to film after she pushes...more
Ross
In brief, the premise of The Flamethrowers is that Reno, a young woman from the American Midwest, moves to New York in the 1970s with hopes of becoming an artist and, maybe, finding love. This leads to her falling in with the in-crowd and traversing the art scene amid the feelings of alienation and distance she has from the people she meets.

None of the above, however, was what led me to buy this novel. I'd read in various reviews online and in the broadsheets that this was a novel about a female...more
Janet
I've been looking forward to reading this--just started but already I'm caught up. The chunkiness of the prose, the good crunchiness of it--just the choice of words, with shape and weight and texture--has me, the great tactile metaphors, I hear this book, I taste it. Snap, crackle pop.
***********************
Loved this book--the speed of it, the description of things as well as emotion, the machinery of the world. I adored the way she recalled the Seventies to me--its grunginess, the blackouts,...more
Clint
Good title, but don't believe the hype. A snoozer of a book that screams "I have an MFA." The kind of style-less bourgeois writing bourgeois critics like James Wood (the second time he's duped me, the first time was Netherland)love: voiceless, unwilling to take risks, and without wit. Not entirely without its merits - especially the beginning, which is beautifully written. But then it moves to New York and everything flattens out and gets dull as hell with a bunch of characters, including the na...more
El
I was 25 at the time, looking for something, anything, when my brother told me he was moving out of town. I couldn't think of anything more important than playing the kid sister card and tagging along wherever he decided to go. Our other brother had broken free a while ago, our parents had moved to another state, and here was the idea that my last attachment was leaving me behind in a place I probably hated more than any of them put together. I had a job, I had a relationship of about seven year...more
Steve
What could be more American than a tall blond chick from Nevada riding an expensive Italian motorcycle on the Salt Flats of Utah? I'm actually serious about that question. At least when considering this novel as an important piece of American fiction. Why I'm stressing that, I'm not entirely sure since I'm still trying to digest what Kushner has accomplished. I suspect Kushner is tapping into speed, light, space, ambition (and a bit of Huck Finn with a getaway vehicle), and calling this combo, w...more
Trish
I had a second opportunity to review this title and it was published in Volume 16 of the online journal Avatar Review. The link is here. Below is my first attempt after reading the book.

--------------------------

”The flamethrowers with their twin tanks, and their gas mask were Sandro’s favorite of the assault company dolls. The asbestos sweater and balloon pants and gauntlet gloves you could outfit them with so they could not carbonize when they set a woods on fire. A woods or bunker or enemy ma
...more
Daffney
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jennifer D
Oct 22, 2013 Jennifer D rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: laura miller @ salon
okay, so...wow. this is a bold, smart, meaty book. laura miller (linked below) referenced "...the novel’s categorical instability" and i totally agree with this assessment. several times, while i was reading the flamethrowers, i found myself thinking (and once, even saying out loud): "WHAT IS THIS?" (not that it matters, i don't think.) the book is many things, and in taking on so many subjects, it is definitely ambitious. it's literary. it's post-modern. it's realist. it's historical fiction. i...more
jordan
Rachel Kushner writes beautifully. Time and again reading this novel you'll pause to admire a near-perfect sentence or to marvel at an innovative description or a simile that bursts with freshness. Consider for example this evocative passage: "It was the morning of the fourth of July and kids were lighting smoke bombs, sulfurous coils of red and green, the colors dense and bright like concentrated dye blooming through water." Wow. Hardly a page goes by which doesn't contain another such well pol...more
Miranda
Strangely disjointed and somewhat disappointing. There are a few (a very few) parts of this that work so well--just really genius bursts of writing; effortless capturing of setting, emotion, or human experience. Unfortunately, they're deeply embedded in long stretches of clunky prose where nothing, literally nothing, happens. The chronology and the two stories don't work either. I can't see a reason for developing Sandro's father's story, except to taint my already perspective on Sandro. I don't...more
Troy
I didn't want to like this, but I do.

It's a bildungsroman, which isn't what I expected. I wanted a social movement novel; something like The Unseen . I also thought Kushner would be full of shit, but she's not, and this book is a damn good portrayal of a young woman dominated by men, dominated by masculine (and shitty) social realms.

Actually, the novel is more of a Künstlerroman, which is about an artist's growth to maturity, which as Wikipedia puts it "depict[s] the conflicts of a sensitive you...more
Abby
In Rachel Kushner's first novel, “Telex from Cuba,” she painted with vivid colors the lush landscapes and multi-layered society of Cuba in the 1950s. It was an impressive debut, narrated primarily by two adolescents whose observations reveal more than they understand. In Kushner's even more ambitious, assured and funnier second novel, “The Flamethrowers,” the protagonist, a young would-be artist known to us only as Reno (where she's from), has some of the same unknowingness, negotiating the turb...more
William
This reads like a book one is supposed to find important in a literary sense. While I am not positive that is not true, I pretty much struggled through it, and was relieved when I reached the end.

Certainly not an easy read. The book follows a number of story lines in a number of different eras, and they did not always stay clear in my mind. But mostly I just never managed to care much about the characters, who seem immune to love and searching in vain for any point to how they spend their lives....more
Jan Rice
Review originally posted July 2014

First, a few exemplary quotes:

A taxi pulled up, and Sandro, his cousin, and Didier got out. I glanced at Burdmoore, whose face registered the cousin's beauty. He watched her with interest, but also caution. It was the expression of a man who had handled beautiful women and could still admire them but never wanted to handle them again.


Practically all of Italy had celebrated Mussolini, and then the war had ended and suddenly everyone was an anti-Fascist.... As if
...more
Rob Slaven
As is usual, I received this book via a GoodReads giveaway. Despite that kind consideration, I'll proceed to say unkind things about it.

The novel simultaneously describes the lives of a young woman in 1977 and the man decades before who built the motorcycle she now rides about on as the roams through the avant garde art world of the day.

On the positive side, this book is a wonderfully written and carefully crafted piece of literature. The author has gone to great pains to weave together some rea...more
Hanneke
I really did not care for this book nor for the main character(s). Flat, pretentious people and a story which is far less interesting than you anticipated, given all the favourable publicity. I am afraid that I have, once more, fallen into the trap of a hyped-up book. I refer to the review of Ross of Aug 30, 2013, whose feelings about the book are quite similar to mine. I would also like to stress, like Ross does, that I think Rachel Kushner has talent. Perhaps her next book will demonstrate tha...more
Sera
Kushner's The Flamethrowers reminds me of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch in that they each provide a fresh and modern way to tell a story. Each book has also polarized readers into love it or hate it camps. Fortunately for me, I have fallen into the love it camp for both.

Kushner writes in a direct, clear and forceful style and tackles a story that readers don't often get a chance about which to read. At the center of the book is a woman nicknamed Reno. For almost the entire book the story is told f...more
Alex
"The Flamethrowers manages to be a macho novel." - review in Tablet

"A funny thing about women and machines: the combination made men curious. They seemed to think it had something to do with them." - this book

So here is the much-hyped Great American Novel [lady division]. It's about Reno, a Nevada naif who moves to the big city in pursuit of Art, and finds instead Herself.

Or maybe it's about the huge complicated performances we put on and call our lives, and how they are or become more or less a...more
Vanessa Wu
I am always interested in what the competition is doing and, being on the verge of publishing a new story called Playing With Fire, I couldn’t help but be drawn to this coruscating new novel from Rachel Kushner which has as its epigraph Fac ut ardeat – Made to burn.

The narrator is an artsy biker girl. She breaks the women’s speed record in the Salt Flats in Utah. She has the hots for young firebrands and trailblazers. She mixes it up with artists in New York. She writes scorching prose.

I can’t d...more
Kasa Cotugno
This is a strange book to review. "Reno" (we never do learn her real name) is at the center -- an unreliable first person narrator, who at 23 is more fearless than those twice her age. She loves speed, thrives on it. From slaloming through gates on a ski course to setting world records on the salt flats -- she is always racing toward some indistinct goal whose parallel lines will never converge. And yet, she is not as clearly delineated as those who surround her. Set in 1976, the story unravels...more
Patrice Hoffman
*Won Through a Goodreads Giveaway*

I'm honestly torn with this book. The Flamethrowers: A Novel is described as being a coming of age story for a girl named after the place of her birth, Reno. The year is 1977 and she is intent on making it in the art world she just doesn't know how. With her love of motorcycles and art, she convienently begins to date a man named Sandro Valero who's father is the king of the Valero tire and motorcycle empire. Reno is very wet behind the ears in all things life s...more
RandomAnthony
So I read this after finishing Anna Karenina and needing something lighter but not too light. Plus, the Nook site had this on sale for two bucks and the National Book Award nominee praise was all over the internet. So well done, whoever decided to put Flamethrowers out for two bucks. You got me. And I'm not mad about it.

The Flamethrowers is intriguing and original, at least to me, maybe I don't traffic in the world of these types of novels often enough to recognize influences. The book's best in...more
Ellie
I loved The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner. It is is satisfying I. So many different ways. Reno (the only name we ever have for our heroine which is not her name but the name of her home town which a man decides to call her by. There: one theme already. It's the 1970s, and there's lots of political activity and cultural activity but feminism has not reached Reno's life. She rides a motorcycle for art and is having an affair with the scion of the motorcycle company, a successful older artist, wh...more
Nick
I have more to say than usual about this book. First, Rachel Kushner writes really well and creates some fascinating characters. Second, elements of the novel really, really annoyed me. For example, long sections of dialogue at dinner parties, either in NYC 1970s art world or upper-class Italians. The skill shown by the author in creating these scenes is admirable, but the people are so damn self-involved I could not care less about them. The connection to history, though, is fascinating, especi...more
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Rachel Kushner’s second novel, THE FLAMETHROWERS was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award and a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book. Her debut novel, TELEX FROM CUBA, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, winner of the California Book Award, and a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book. Kushner is the only writer ever to be nominated...more
More about Rachel Kushner...
Telex from Cuba The Contenders: Excerpts from the 2013 National Book Award Fiction Finalists Soft Targets: V.2.1 The Great Exception Laura Owens

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“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.” 20 likes
“It was not the case that one thing morphed into another, child into woman. You remained the person you were before things happened to you. The person you were when you thought a small cut string could determine the course of a year. You also became the person to whom certain things happened. Who passed into the realm where you no longer questioned the notion of being trapped in one form. You took on that form, that identity, hoped for its recognition from others, hoped someone would love it and you.” 12 likes
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