For every book we read during the book club, one of our book club members will write a review. This way anyone who couldn’t be there, can still join in with the fun! Roy den Boer is taking over as our main reviewer for the book club books, judging all that we have picked.
I have to be honest, I read The Flamethrowers in a hurry. The book club had snuck up on me and it was time to get cracking. This circumstance turned out, let’s say, less than optimal for this particular novel. It didn’t grab me and it continued to not grab me for far too long. Only the flaws were popping out. There’s a coldness to the prose, there’s a tiredness to the subject matter, there’s a languid pace that certainly didn’t click with my reading mode. The novel leaves the main characters for chapters from the life of a member of the Varela family. These parts felt like they were meant to taunt me for my hastiness. “Here’s some completely useless chapters added to slow you down even more.” But the Varela family is the reason the second part of the novel shifts to Italy and there it really started clicking for me. As the novel leaves New York for Italy everything seems to come alive. The novel doesn’t necessarily change tones, but Kushner’s Italy has a vibrancy that her New York sorely lacks.
I read this book too long ago to recount its kidnapping plot. This plot sounds more defining for the novel than it is in practice. There is a kidnapping, but these events are more background to keep the characters moving and exploring the world than anything else. In preparing for this review I read the Wikipedia summary and it barely reminded me of this book. Sure, those things happened, but that’s not what the novel is about at all. The novel sets a mood, sets a scene and that’s really what the novel does best. As I recall the novel it’s about a young woman who wants to be an artist, moves to New York, meets some annoying artist-types, becomes involved with an Italian guy from a rich family, eventually goes to Italy, things are fun and lush, people are odd, she comes back to New York having changed.
I’ve put off writing this review for so long, because I’m not really sure how I feel about it. I have a pet peeve about novels wherein artists talk about art, that happens in this novel and I just really hate that for whatever reason. The early parts of the book really just felt tedious and art school-y in the worst ways. But that second part really works, and The Flamethrowers has just sat well in my memory. I like the idea of having read it more than actually reading it. The novel has risen in my esteem since writing it. But the characters never really pop for me. There’s very current themes, but nothing revolutionary is written about them here. The hype around the novel made me think feminism was going to be a bigger part of the novel than it really was. Was it just so subtle or am I giving it too much credit? The takeaway: I’ll probably read Kushner’s next novel and figure out my feelings then.