Tag: Midnight Cowboy

The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner

Posted November 2, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Contemporary / 0 Comments

The Flamethrowers by Rachel KushnerTitle: The Flamethrowers (Goodreads)
Author: Rachel Kushner
Published: Harvill Secker, 2013
Pages: 383
Genres: Contemporary
My Copy: Library Book

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

Reno is a young artist from Nevada who moves to New York with the ambitious dream of making it in the art world. In a new city she finds herself as an outsider; lonely and spending her weekends watching the people of the city. She intends to turn her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art, ironically moving to the east to create art about her life in the west. Eventually she finally makes it into the New York art scene only to find that it is full of more posers than artists.

Rachel Kushner’s second novel The Flamethrowers seemed to get a lot of book buzz when it first came out but I don’t know anyone that has read it. I was walking through my library looking at all the random books they have when I came across this one and decided I will try it. This may have been a mistake, it was a tough start; I failed to find something to keep me interested to begin with and that struggle continued throughout the entire novel. In hindsight I probably should have put the book aside and tried again later but it was a library book so I forced myself through it.

I am struggling to work out if the book was the problem or if it was just the wrong time to read it. This is a particular problem, I can see glimpses of morbid beauty throughout this novel and for all intents and purposes this should have been the type of book I would enjoy. However I feel no desire to try and reread this book to find out who was at fault.

I spendta lot of time feeling disconnected from the plot, but I have to wonder if this was intentional. The Flamethrowers is a novel about the unspoken rules of modern society; how we should act in order to fit into the social circles. The need to belong runs high through this book but this is more than just social status. There are insights into art, reputation, sanity, love and life that play a big part in that ultimate class/social struggle.

I felt like this book was constructed along the lines of Midnight Cowboy but set in the world of Andy Warhol. Replace the word prostitute with the word artist and you pretty much get the idea of what to expect from The Flamethrowers. However, this felt more like a social satire on the art world, poking fun at all the poseurs and the art scene. The idea that Reno felt the need to move to New York to pursue her art career places a big part in The Flamethrowers and is what led me to suspect this was a parody.

Weirdly enough, trying to gather my thoughts and understand what happened in the novel in order to write this review gave me more insight than reading the book. The book felt like a constant state of confusion which my brain had to sort out later. There was something there in this novel but sadly I never connected. I would love to find someone who loved this book to understand what I missed.