Book Review: “The Flamethrowers” by Rachel Kushner


If I had not received a free copy in exchange for a LibraryThing review, I would not have finished this book, which frustrated and ultimately bored me. Kushner has the chops to be a spectacular writer and does much stylistic muscle-flexing but all the disparate components of this book remained just that. Maybe I’m old-fashioned. I wanted a fusion of pieces that would make the whole hang together. Instead, every time that story momentum started to build, or I started to get into a character or relationship, I got thrown out and had to slog through exposition for its own sake, and too many pontificating characters.

So much of the treatment is superficial. Kushner conveys the pompous narcissism of the Manhattan art scene, but not the charisma that draws us to the artists despite that. Her descriptions are very detailed – from motorcycle racing to student rebellions – but she never got me to care about any of it. I kept falling out of the narrative to wonder Why is she telling me all this now? Or at all?

Perhaps my negative reaction would have been less pronounced if the cover quote had not proclaimed her “one of the most brilliant writers of the new century.” That quote raised expectations that this book never remotely came close to meeting.

P.S. Here is a synopsis of the book, heavily embellished by the publisher.


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