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The Flamethrowers Paperback – January 14, 2014

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; Reprint edition (January 14, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1439142017
  • ISBN-13: 978-1439142011
  • Product Dimensions: 8.1 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (272 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,720 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Guest Review of Flamethrowers

By Lauren Groff

Rachel Kushner

Every so often, you’ll come across a book that burns so hot and bright it’ll sear a shadow on your vision. For a while afterwards, everything you look at will have the book’s imprint on it; your world will be colored in the book’s tones, and you will glimpse the book’s characters on the street and feel your heart knocking in your chest for a few blocks, as if you’d escaped a close call.

This is how I felt after I read Rachel Kushner’s brilliant The Flamethrowers. The night I finished it, I dreamt of racing motorcycles across sun-shot salt-flats and of floating in glimmering Italian swimming pools. In the morning, I tried to describe the book to a friend but I eventually faltered into silence.

This is a beautiful book, I finally said, a book full of truth, a book about art and motorcycle racing and radicalism, about innocence and speed and stepping up to a dangerous brink, a book very deeply about the late seventies in New York City and its powerful blend of grittiness and philosophical purity.

Oh, said my friend. So. What is it about?

I tried again. I said: It’s a love story, about a young artist under the sway of an older, established artist, scion of a motorcycle family, who betrays her, and she joins up with an underground group in Italy. It feels like a contemporary European novel, philosophical and intelligent, with an American heart and narrative drive, I said.

Oh, said my friend.

Just read the book, I said and my friend did, and loved it to speechlessness, as well. Wow, is all he could say when he returned the book to me.

I don’t blame him. The truth is, this is a strange and mysterious novel, a subtle novel. Much of its power comes from the precision of Kushner’s language and how carefully she allows the flashes of perception to drive the narrative forward. See Reno, the offbeat narrator, describing ski racing to her lover, Sandro, saying, “Ski racing was drawing in time.” Suddenly you can see what she means, a body’s crisp slaloming down the white slope, the way the skier draws a perfect serpent down the clock.

Or see Reno, racing her motorcycle: “Far ahead of me, the salt flats and mountains conspired into one puddled vortex. I began to feel the size of this place. Or perhaps I did not feel it, but the cycle, whose tires marked its size with each turn, did. I felt a tenderness for them, speeding along under me.” There is something deeply eerie happening under the words, something on the verge of tipping over and spilling out; and, at the same time, a gentleness and innocence at the core of all that noise and speed.

Rachel Kushner is an unbelievably exciting writer, a writer of urgent and beautiful sentences and novels that are vast in their ambition and achievement. I finished it months ago, but The Flamethrowers—startling, radiant—still haunts me.

--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* In her smash-hit debut, Telex from Cuba (2008), Kushner took on corporate imperialism and revolution, themes that also stoke this knowing and imaginative saga of a gutsy yet naive artist from Nevada. Called Reno when she arrives in New York in 1977, she believes that her art has “to involve risk,” but she’s unprepared for just how treacherous her entanglements with other artists will be. Reno’s trial-by-fire story alternates provocatively with the gripping tale of Valera, an Italian who serves in a motorcycle battalion in WWI, manufactures motorcycles, including the coveted Moto Valera, and makes a fortune in the rubber industry by oppressing Indian tappers in Brazil. These worlds collide when Reno moves in with Sandro Valera, a sculptor estranged from his wealthy family, and tries to make art by racing a Moto Valera on the Bonneville Salt Flats. Ultimately, Reno ends up in Italy, where militant workers protest against the Valeras. As Reno navigates a minefield of perfidy, Kushner, with searing insights, contrasts the obliteration of the line between life and art in hothouse New York with life-or-death street battles in Rome. Adroitly balancing astringent social critique with deep soundings of the complex psyches of her intriguing, often appalling characters, Kushner has forged an incandescently detailed, cosmopolitan, and propulsively dramatic tale of creativity and destruction. --Donna Seaman --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Rachel Kushner's new novel, The Flamethrowers, was a finalist for the 2013 National Book Award, the 2014 Folio Prize, the James Tait Black Prize, and was longlisted for the Bailey's Prize. It was chosen as one of the five best novels of the Year by the New York Times, and was on almost every Best Book list of 2013. Her debut novel, Telex from Cuba, was also 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's fiction and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, the New York Times, the Paris Review, the Believer, Artforum, and Bookforum. She is a 2013 Guggenheim Fellow and lives in Los Angeles.

Customer Reviews

All in all, though I started out liking this book, I ended being a bit annoyed by it.
The story was not enough to hold my interest however, and many of the supporting characters were flat or to bizarre to be real.
S. Goldstein
Through her beautiful writing, this book is as much a visual masterpiece as a lingual one.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

92 of 105 people found the following review helpful By J. A Magill TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 12, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
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 polished gem. Unfortunately, extraordinary prose can only serve as a pillar for a novel, it can't be the entire foundation. Different readers rely on different aspects of a novel to carry the whole, but for me writing alone isn't enough. When it comes to "The Flamethrowers" other deficiencies of plot and character proved too weighty and subsumed the whole.

Other reviewers and the description have summarized the novel's premise, but here is my take: a beautiful young woman -- the narrator -- recently out of college with a penchant for motorcycles and dreams of becoming an artist moves to New York from out west. She is nicknamed Reno for the city of her birth and quickly falls into the New York art scene of the late 70s. As a plot, this contains all of the needed ingredients for a fine novel.

Yet "The Flamethrowers" depends on Reno captivating the reader. Time and again, she fails at this task for the simple reason that Reno spends so much time "observing" that she forgets, it seems, ever to make any genuine choices. Instead she drifts. She meets people and goes along with them, befriends this one and sleeps with that one, but she seems far more interested in giving us those surroundings than ever really engaging with the plot. The resulting novel often more drags than flows.
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70 of 81 people found the following review helpful By Sean Rueter VINE VOICE on April 18, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Flamethrowers was a challenging but ultimately rewarding read for me. Kushner's prose is beautiful; among the best I've read. But the main narrator (who I guess is called Reno, but I really only recall one character referring to her as that) is a bit of a blank slate. While it becomes clear why the author has made this choice later on, it made it tough for me to connect to her or the novel at various points.

The other issue I had with becoming fully invested in the work was that it at times feels like a collection of essays. I'm not talking about the occasional temporal shifts to the history of the Valera family/corporation. There are passages where one of the characters that "Reno" is observing will rant or wax about some topic or another. These are wonderfully written and contain smart points and clever turns of phrase, but sometimes left me scratching my head after a few pages. But, like the narrator's cryptic viewpoint, this does reveal itself to be thematically relevant later on.

Rachel Kushner has many valuable things that she says with this novel - about art, and gender, and identity...among other things. This review sounds a little more negative than I meant it to, but its purpose is to encourage readers to stick with a sometimes difficult read. I know that I'm glad that I did.
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Format: Hardcover
Some novels grab you by the throat. Others seduce you with their intelligence and artistry. Rachel Kushner's THE FLAMETHROWERS, her second novel, is decidedly in the latter category. An intricate examination of art, revolutionary politics and the risks some people are willing to take in life and love, it gains its considerable power through the accretion of closely-observed detail and Kushner's skill at translating that into alluring prose.

"The two things I loved were drawing and speed," says Reno, the protagonist and narrator of most of the novel. Her name, after her Nevada home town, is bestowed on her by a man she meets when she arrives, young, friendless and jobless, but with a passion to make art, in New York City in 1975. She's quickly caught up in the avant-garde art scene and becomes the lover of Sandro Valera, a minimalist sculptor who creates "large aluminum boxes, open on top, empty inside, so bright and gleaming their angles melted together." Sandro, 14 years her senior, a man who recognizes that "vital life was change and swiftness, which only revealed itself through violent convulsions" seems well-matched to Reno.

Kushner takes some time knitting together the threads of her plot, whose circuitous course and sometime languid pace require an attentive reading. In addition to her passion for art, Reno is a motorcycle racer, and the early chapters of the story find her at the Bonneville Salt Flats, trying to break a land speed record in a vehicle manufactured by the Italian tire company owned by Sandro's family. She has also come to the site to photograph the tracks of her motorcycle as a piece of conceptual art.
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34 of 41 people found the following review helpful By marjorie gordon on June 14, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
After reading Telex from Cuba, Kushner's previous book, and with all the media hype, I could not wait for this novel to appear in my mailbox. After an hour of reading. hoping the novel would catch fire (as its name implies, this flamethrower was stone cold. The promise of a a coming of age story writ large on the NY art world in the time of Andy Warhol held great promise, That the central character, Reno, loves speed and races a motorcycle at the Nevada Salt Flats offers another opportunity to heat up the story. Instead, the story, and its characters, never really take off, rather they fizzle out. the arc of the story is fragmented never truly coming together into a coherent piece of work. Reno is a young woman with no sense of herself, who looks for love in all the wrong places, and although imbedded in the eccentricity of the NY art world she does not appear to be influenced, in anyway, by her relationship to it. Early on she falls into bed with someone who remains nameless until she meets a wealthy older Italian artist, who becomes her lover, and, conveniently, is a friend of her one night stand. Her Italian lover is a narcissistic male who doesn't treat her right, and really, haven't we had enough of this kind of story? Perhaps the most frustrating is at the books end we leave Reno as we found her, unmoored in the process of becoming an adult. I slogged through to the end, and sold the book back to Amazon.
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