The Flamethrowers/Rachel Kushner: Reflections

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

With every book I read, I learn not just more about the world but more about my mind and how it receives or won't receive language. Some books rushing through me like a wind, some pooling in my soul, some remembered not at all for plot but for their mood. Some saying, Stay awake, stay awake, there's so much here.

Rachel Kushner's The Flamethrowers challenged me. I was in awe of how deeply Kushner had imbibed her material—motorcycle racing, 1970s art, rubber trees, Italian gangs, ennui, Nevada salt flats. I was perpetually aware of a story happening at some distance, beyond me, beyond my full capabilities as a reader. Long passages of extreme brilliance. Some interludes with their own internal logic. A study of a time and a place and a certain kind of people. A triumph, in many ways, this book. But perhaps I more fully admired its parts than its whole.

I would like to share here a block, a favorite part. Kushner can write magnificently about almost anything. Here she is writing about the process of becoming. Her acuity is breathtaking. This passage, and many others, reads like notes to a novelist. I study it. I value it. I share it.

... he also drew from me, that night in the Italian restaurant, things I hadn't spoken about to anyone before. What I thought about as a child, the nature of my solitude, the person I was before I went through puberty and became more readably "girl." The person I was before I became more readably "person." We seemed to share certain ideas about what happens in childhood, when you have to place yourself under the sign of your own name, your face, your voice, your outward reality. When you become a fixed position, a thing to others and to yourself. There were times, I told him, at the age of five, six, seven, when it was a shock to me that I was trapped in my own body. Suddenly I would feel locked into an identity, trapped inside myself, as if the container of my person were some kind of terrible mistake. My own voice and arms, my name, seemed wrong. As if I were a dispersed set of nodes that had been falsely organized into a form, and I was living in a nightmare, forced to see from out of this limited and unreal "me." I wasn't so sure I occupied one place, one person, and Sandro said this made sense, this instinct of a child, to question the artificial confines of personhood.


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