Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Review: "The Flamethrowers" by Rachel Kushner

I am sure most of the critics who reviewed Rachel Kushner’s sophomore novel The Flamethrowers were hard pressed to say that it was not ambitious. This is most definitely a book that goes places, from the salt flats of Utah to a large villa in Italy; this is a book of big places, and, to Kushner’s credit, big ideas. It attempts to encompass an entire generation, that of the late 1970’s, and that generations ideals. It is successful at that, but it is more of a symbolic novel than something that I can see occurring in real life. There isn’t a bad character here, although some are dispensable, but they never break through the microcosm on the page and become something that I can truly care about. While I don’t really dislike this book, I feel it is the kind of book that critics will heap huge amounts of praise on, some of which it actually doesn’t deserve. The book focuses on a woman named Reno, a film student and motorcycle enthusiast, who finds herself waist-deep in the artistic underground, filled with big personalities and over the top shenanigans. She is drawn to it immediately, and finds romance when she meets Sandro, a man fourteen years older than her who is estranged from his family, who wealthy owners of a motorcycle manufacturing company. Once she goes to meet them, all hell breaks loose, and she is surprised to find little comfort in the community she put so much emotional stock into. That is the part this book gets right, how the overly artistic and flamboyant crowd can be just as hallow and vacant as any other group, categorized perfectly early in the novel, when Reno rebukes a nice man’s advances, which I kept going back to when she was with Sandro. But it is hard to find anything special in this book, something that would warrant it’s unanimous praise. It is still good, just not great.

Rating: 4/5

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