Thursday, March 6, 2014

It's Not You, It's Me

Rachel Kushner, your novel The Flamethrowers is beautifully written and deserves the many accolades (including National Book Award finalist) it has received. I admire the power of your prose, the engaging stories your characters tell, the deft weaving of fiction with historical events, the subtle skewering of the art world, the vivid scene you painted early in the novel of the speed trials in the Bonneville Flats.

And I really wanted to like it. I know the problem is mine, not yours. But it just didn't work for me. I'm frequently critical of readers who insist that a good novel must have a character they like, even admire. But I now realize I have my own prejudice. I need to feel engaged. Reno, a young woman from Nevada who enters the New York art scene in the early 70's, is by nature a passive observer. She is acted upon but rarely initiates action. This is not a failure by Kushner – she means for Reno to be a non-judgmental narrator. But this kept me at a distance from her, and I had trouble staying interested.

Sorry, Rachel. I look forward to trying again with you.

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