The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Flamethrowers is burning-hot good. It works on so many levels: a coming of age story; a feminist analysis/satire/tragedy re entrapping gender roles; an anatomy of “revolutionary” cultures of violence and dissimulation (esp in NYC and Italy in the 1970s); film history and criticism–you’ll never think about “china girls” or “stock footage” or Italian neo-realist cinema the same way after reading this. Plus we get a reflection on modernism’s dream machines and their connections to colonialist violence (hip Valera motorcycles and rubber plantations in Brazil)….
Wickedly well-turned sentences, paragraphs, entire episodes. Its ambition and its moves also at different times reminded me of reading Hemingway, or Plath, or even Henry James (Portrait of a Lady‘s scene when Isabel first encounters Italy: guess who takes Osmond’s part!).
An excerpt, from the interior thoughts of Reno, the book’s heroine: “You have time. Meaning don’t use it, but pass through time in patience, waiting for something to come. Prepare for its arrival. Don’t rush to meet it. Be a conduit. … Some people might consider that passivity but I did not. I considered it living” (30). Remember those lines when you get to the book’s brilliant ending.