- Mark West
- 10 May 2013
Fast-paced novel which reflects Kushner's need for speed
(Scribner Book Company)
Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers is remarkable for its expansiveness and for its exhilarating succession of ideas. At its heart is Reno – named after her hometown – who becomes involved in the New York art world of the 1970s.
From there the novel spreads out to cover one hundred years of history in Italy and America. Its central motif is speed, and begins with Reno streaking across the Nevada desert on a motorbike in search of a forgotten land-speed record-holder.
Her love of motorbikes leads her to break the speed record herself and become involved with the estranged son of an Italian bike manufacturer and ex-Fascist, which in turn leads to her meeting the Red Brigades in Rome and becoming implicated in kidnap and murder.
Kushner calls speed “a mode of being”, and this sense characterises the utopian and futurist imaginations of her characters. It is the reader's experience too, pulled along by a narrative that switches between New York's Chelsea Hotel and the Italian Futurists, World War I and May '68 in a way that leaves one gasping for breath.