I had the chance to hear the author read an extended excerpt from near the end of this book in mid-April 2015 and appreciated anew how strong the writing is. The Flamethrowers, was Kushner’s second novel. It, as well as her first, Telex from Cuba (2008), were finalists for the National Book Award. Kushner and poet John Yau read from their works as part of the reading series sponsored by Princeton University’s program in creative writing and Lewis Center for the Arts.
By Rachel Kushner – In many publications’ 2013 Top Ten lists, The Flamethrowers: A Novel starts strong, with the heroine testing her new-model Valera motorcycle and her nerve at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Coincidentally, she’s taken up with Sandro Valera, a sculptor of aluminum boxes in Manhattan, where she hopes photographs of her bike’s tracks across the flats will make her mark in the early 1970’s art world, too. This naive gal from Reno, Nevada, is always a couple of steps off pace, trying to hold her own among the older, jaded New York artists and hangers-on, and falls hopelessly behind when Sandro takes her to his wealthy family’s villa above Lake Como. There she encounters the really sharp social knives. Her interactions with Sandro’s mother are breathtaking. I won’t say more about plot, in case you decide to read it. Nice writing. Here’s a sample: “Roy Orbison’s voice entered the room like a floating silk ribbon . . . And the hair. Black as melted-down record vinyl.” (3/3)