Rachel Kushner's 'The Flamethrowers' Arrives With a Bang

Novel of Arts and Motorcycles Ignites '70s Arts Scene

The Rachel Papers: In her novel “The Flamethrowers,” Rachel Kushner confronts the political and ideological chaos of the ‘70s.
Lucy Raven
The Rachel Papers: In her novel “The Flamethrowers,” Rachel Kushner confronts the political and ideological chaos of the ‘70s.

By Joshua Furst

Published July 24, 2013, issue of July 26, 2013.
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The true radicals are out on the street, waging war against the Valeras. They are the only people in the book who are simply and completely who they appear to be, and their appearance on the scene challenges not only the lives of the other characters, but also the notion Kushner has been playing with, of inauthenticity as the only viable way to engage the world.

What’s at stake in “The Flamethrowers,” we come to realize, is freedom. Not the jingoistic freedom of American imperialism, but true freedom: existential, material, human freedom. It’s the kind of freedom that hasn’t been seen in a long time — not since the 1970s, maybe. The kind we sometimes have to hide in order to hold on to it. The kind that’s always threatening to burst back into the world and work its anarchic, regenerative destruction.

As Burdmoore Model, an acquaintance of Reno’s and former leader of the radical 1960s trouble-seekers The Motherf***ers — one of the many characters in “The Flamethrowers” who appear at first to be incidental but turn out to be central players in the drama, says — “A lot of people think the city is decadent emptiness… empty of potential. It’s dead now, I mean currently. But the day will come when the people of the Bronx wake up, the sisters and brothers out in Brooklyn, and I can hardly wait.’”

Joshua Furst is the author of “The Sabotage Café” (Knopf, 2007).


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