Monday, December 19, 2016
Read By: Christina Traister
Published April 2013 by Scribner
Source: my audiobook copy purchased at my local library bookclub sale
The year is 1975 and Reno—so-called because of the place of her birth—has come to New York intent on turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art. Her arrival coincides with an explosion of activity in the art world—artists have colonized a deserted and industrial SoHo, are staging actions in the East Village, and are blurring the line between life and art. Reno meets a group of dreamers and raconteurs who submit her to a sentimental education of sorts. Ardent, vulnerable, and bold, she begins an affair with an artist named Sandro Valera, the semi-estranged scion of an Italian tire and motorcycle empire. When they visit Sandro’s family home in Italy, Reno falls in with members of the radical movement that overtook Italy in the seventies. Betrayal sends her reeling into a clandestine undertow.
I finished this last week and as I started to write this review, I struggled to remember how the book ended. Which should tell you something about how I felt about this book. It also makes me wonder, not for the first time, what kind of reader I am and if I'm smart enough to read the "smart" books, the ones that are up for awards.
The Flamethrowers was a finalist for the National Book Award in 2013 and made the Top Ten Books of the Year list for several major publications. Perhaps I would have gotten more out of it if I had read, rather than listened to, it, although this is no fault of Christina Traister who does an excellent job of performing the book. Since I "read" audio books, for the most part, while I'm driving, I'm certain that I just am not giving them my full attention. If I were walking, or folding laundry, or scrubbing toilets while I listened, for example, I would better be able to turn my full attention to a book.
There was a lot I really liked about this book and I often felt really attached to the story. There were other times, though, when Kushner took readers down a side road, that I felt myself losing interest. I enjoyed revisiting the history of the 1970's, a time when people in both the U.S. and Italy were fighting authority and the business culture to try to make better lives. I liked Reno, who was both a tough girl fighting to make her way in a man's world and a naive, young woman used by the men in her life. She is surrounded by an interesting cast of characters none of whom is a particularly good person but several of whom I was drawn to nevertheless.
I did come away from the book interested in reading more by Kushner. Next time, though, I'll read rather than listen to her book. An approach I may need to take going forward with any so-called "smart book."