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The Flamethrowers

3.48  ·  Rating details ·  19,277 ratings  ·  2,254 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
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Popular Answered Questions
Lisa Thomas I wouldn't say it's clean. There are quite a few shocking stories that might be upsetting and highly disturbing.
I wouldn't say it's clean. There are quite a few shocking stories that might be upsetting and highly disturbing.
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Peter Scisco I might suggest reframing your question. What does the ending of the book mean to you?

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Average rating 3.48  · 
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 ·  19,277 ratings  ·  2,254 reviews

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Justin Evans
May 16, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Aug 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
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 ahead, s ...more
Apr 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Violet wells
Dec 23, 2016 rated it liked it
I remember when John Banville won the Booker Prize someone remarked that despite the enormous cultural changes in our world British writers were still writing about art historians. The New York art scene seems to serve a similar function for American writers. I’ll confess here that the New York art scene bores me. And globally speaking probably lost any real influence with the demise of Andy Warhol. New York’s cultural relevance after Warhol is its street life, most notably rap and graffiti. Kus ...more
Apr 19, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: shortlisted
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
Steven Godin


Quite early on in The Flamethrowers there is a scene where the 23-year-old female protagonist Reno is giving her motorcycle a run on the Bonneville Salt Flats. There is nothing particularly memorable about this scene, and I don't have much of an interest in speedy motorbikes nor barren salt flats. And that was that I thought. Will soon be forgotten. Once I truly got into the novel.

100 pages in - despite me liking the New York art scene of this era - I can't stop flashing back to Reno on the
switterbug (Betsey)
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Apr 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 10, 2016 rated it really liked it
Her Name is Reno and She Dances on the Hand

Sometimes a cigar is only a cigar. Sigmund Freud

Our protagonist Reno hails from Reno, Nevada. She's in her early 20s, loves motorcycles, goes to NYC in 1975 with a nebulous plan to create art incorporating her need for speed--not the drug. She hangs out with a number of artsy narcisisstic tarts and farts, each of whom loves to blow hot air.

After many vapid verbal volleys among these SoHo denizens, our girl becomes involved and moves in with an Italian
Mar 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Mar 27, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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,
Aug 24, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: usa, 2018-read
I really, really enjoyed Kushner's "The Mars Room", but I found "The Flamethrowers" pretty underwhelming: Too many ideas that were insufficiently connected made for a convoluted novel that left me pretty cold. Additionally, it shows that the parts about Europe were written by an American, as Kushner throws around historical and cultural developments that might be well researched, but their depiction lacks vividness and a feeling of sincerity (not that an American generally couldn't pull that off ...more
Jun 20, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 09, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit, read-2016
Kushner has taken an intriguingly disparate set of subjects - the New York art world, the world of land speed records and the political unrest of 70s Italy, and woven them into the rites of passage story of a girl from Nevada nicknamed Reno and her initiation into the Bohemian milieu of New York, where she meets Sandro, an artist who has largely rejected his part in the family business that has made him rich. Reno is something of a blank cipher whose actions lead her into situations quite passiv ...more
Oct 31, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, art, italy, literature
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
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
Jun 04, 2013 rated it did not like it
The really liked Telex from Cuba, so I bought this book even though the plot didn't interest me. It took me 2 hours to get to Page 32 where this sentence appears: From a placid childhood that faced the African sea, in which every young boy's game was a set of silhouettes against a clean division of water and sky, vast and limitless, a sea smooth and convex as a glass-maker's bubble, stretching and welling as if the aquamarine water were a single molten plasma. I did not read any further.
Jun 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: laura miller @ salon
okay, 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
Jan 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, e-books
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
Sep 22, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 1001-read
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
Aug 19, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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.
Jan Rice
Apr 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction, politics, history
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
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
Jun 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 12, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Feb 17, 2014 rated it liked it
(2.5) One of those books I feel sheepish for not grasping the appeal of (I had a similar experience with Adam Johnson’s The Orphan Master’s Son in 2013). I read the first 135 pages in April 2014 before my NetGalley download expired, but always meant to pick it up from the library. When I finally did a few days ago, I realized I had zero interest in finishing.

Alternating sections are about Valera, a Milan motorcycle maker, and Reno, a daredevil female rider and budding artist in 1970s New Yor
Patrice Hoffman
Feb 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
*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
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
Feb 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
May 19, 2015 rated it it was ok
And so I finally read what was New York Magazine's Most Discussed Book of The Year, albeit two years later. And much like New York itself, I found it utterly overrated. Kushner get great reviews from all the respectable sources and is the only writer to have both novels nominated for National Book Award, although neither won, so someone somewhere agrees with me. Don't get me wrong, she can write, she has a very competent command of language and does occasionally splendid descriptions. I that is ...more
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Rachel Kushner is the only writer to ever be nominated for a National Book Award in Fiction for both a first and second novel. She began her Bachelor’s in Political Economy at the University of California, Berkeley when she was only sixteen and went on to obtain an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University. She published her first novel, Telex from Cuba, in 2008. Kushner has edited for Gran ...more

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