“We were a project, a becoming, a set of plans”
“In the way that all buried truths rushed along quietly in some hidden place”
“The important matter of small-town hair”
“Big mustaches, faces barbecued by sun and wind, suspenders framing regal paunches”
“Only a killjoy would claim neon wasn’t beautiful”
Wait, I know the word to describe Flamethrowers: incomparable, literally. I cannot compare it to anything I have ever read before. Sometimes I do a recipe-style breakdown of books–3 parts this, 1 part that, etc– but not with this one. It is no parts anything else, all parts itself. Most books I love occupy familiar space. I love them because they latch on to emotional pressure points, amplifying feelings I already have with new language and insight. Sisterland, Curtis Sittenfeld’s new novel, is an example of that kind of book, that lights up pathways in my brain that I like to have lit up.
The Flamethrowers is something else entirely, mapping out new paths altogether, crafting new brain tissue out of matter that it roped in with its bizarre and unheard of magnetic force. It doesn’t fit into any of the rubrics I normally use, and for that, I loved it.
What is it about? Art? Love? Sex? Rebellion? Complacency? Mostly set in the 70s, but dipping into the past to add a little depth here and there, Flamethrowers follows an unnamed young woman (we only know her as “Reno,” so called because that’s where she’s from) who races motorcycles, falls unsuspiciously in love, works as a “China Girl” in a film studio, aspires to artistic innovation, and trips into a life more adventurous and luxurious than she really is equipped to navigate.
And holy hell, Kushner can do phenomenal things with words. I could have picked hundreds of phrases instead of the ones above that have lodged themselves under my ribs.
I also love the way she thinks; read her New Yorker profile.
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