I forgot who it was that recommended this book but I'd like to extend my heartfelt gratitude.
To get the least enjoyable parts out of the way, I'd say...moreI forgot who it was that recommended this book but I'd like to extend my heartfelt gratitude.
To get the least enjoyable parts out of the way, I'd say it's the technical part that slowed me down somewhat. Kushner is good in limiting exposition to the bare minimum (which is still a lot) but she did not manage to engage -- which is a shame, because I have read other writers below her caliber who can and did get me engrossed in paragraphs of purely technical stuff.
It can be argued that it is a bit convenient that our heroine happens to be documentary filmmaker, able to ski and ride a motorcycle but I'd say Kushner made them interwoven nicely, maybe even naturally, to the story that I would push aside the notion of it being too neat.
The prose though. I gave up keeping a note of beautiful quotes from the book because I wouldn't be able to enjoy reading if I kept stopping to write down my favorites!
The characters are richly drawn that I fancied myself getting a bit uncomfortable seeing people I recognized. Kushner is masterful in fleshing out people and presenting them whole and honestly and hinting at what she personally thinks about each of them.
There is abruptness in her style that I like, all jarringly contrasted with her exquisite sprawling exposition; one of my favorite is the part where our heroine was preparing to do her run on the land speed record race and then the narrative flows into an astonishing story about Nina Simone.
I can't say that I like her alternating between now and then though; the Now being our heroine story and the Then being Valera's story. I don't usually mind this narrative choice (I like being teased as much as the next person) but with The Flamethrowers I felt merely irritated because frankly, I did not care about Valera.
I love the cinematic feels Kushner throws in and she does that with flair. There was a beautiful scene in the middle of a demonstration in Rome, which she chooses to tell via our heroine's viewfinder as she filmed the whole event.
One of the things that initially put the novel in my radar was the fact that one publication I follow called it 2013 Most Controversial Novel. I am not sure what it is about the novel that is controversial other than it is powerful in its insights -- but I do think there is a passage about adolescence crush and innocence that is wonderfully written and chilling in its stark conclusion.
I have always thought that the advantage of fiction is that, when told honestly in rich details, as close as it could be to how it would be if it were real -- it leaves you with a lot to learn from. The Flamethrowers in a prime example, not to mention it gives you a lot of clues to answer some questions the novel raises in you, leaving you thinking and wondering long after you close the book.
One other thing I envy about Rachel Kushner, she managed to get away with not naming her heroine!(less)