The Flamethrowers July 17 2014, 0 Comments

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 verisimilitude). But it manifests itself as a pure explosion of now: it catches us in its mobile, flashing present, which is the living reality it conjures on the page at the moment we are reading."

Alive. Rippling with stories. Historical. Realistic. A pure explosion of now.

What a vibrant, electric ride this was. A novel as wild as it is elegant, zooming in and out of scenes so perfectly brought to life that they will shimmer in your memory for a long time. A doe-eyed, inhabited, wonderful female character who hungers for experience at every turn of the page and steals your heart in one swift move with her innocence and willingness to take it all in.

Because this is what this gorgeous novel does, it takes it all in. It brings to life (visceral, complicated, ever-shifting life) every single theme and locale it touches upon: the New York art scene in the 70's, the grittiness and primal energy of the Bowery of those years, the coming of age tale that never resolves itself, the radical left-wing groups that terrorized Italy at the same period, the beauty of motorcycles and the intoxication of speed throughout history, from World War I to salt flats races in Nevada.

This is writing at its best. It will swallow you up in one big gulp and spit you back out on the curb, leaving you breathless and wondering what just happened to you.