Book Reviewlets: The Flamethrowers

Ordinarily, y’all know, I try to read major book reviews before I write my own reviewlet. And I try to work critical consensus in, like the cold butter in the pie crust. Making the reviewlet flaky and steamy and delectable.

But no flakes in this one. Everyone got all wiggety about how some dudes said some bullshit about Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers.

So let Thinker for Hire do you a favor.

When a big book like Freedom gets nearly universal praise, some (women) critics make some noise saying yo! That shit’s sexist! All this praise of Franzen.

When a big book like The Flamethrowers gets nearly universal praise, some (men) critics make some noise saying yo! It’s not that good! And then other (women) critics say yo! That shit’s sexist! All this pooping on a fantastic novel by a woman!

Could it be that, perhaps, the literary establishment is sexist? But that only people left out of its elite can see it?

For the record, I find the negative reviews of the book to be unconvincing, bordering on senseless. It’s too cool? A macho book written by a woman? The characters are not really artists? I’m not sure what any of that means, except that boychiks with blowhorns aren’t thinking too hard about anything before they (their editors) click publish.

The funniest thing about the shadenflame? shadenkush? hubbub about how some dudes say Kushner’s not all that good, and the only people who think she is are hung up on gender, is


All these dudes pontificating to Kushner’s main character. Pontification is one of the most reliable marks of privilege.

Sometimes a college instructor will lecture. That’s a privilege, sure. But she is hired to be smarter than her students.

When an art dude spends 5 pages lecturing an art gal about art? That’s because he’s a dude in a dude’s world.

When all the women in the book—in NYC artist parties, in pastoral Italian estates, in Roman rabble squats—when all the women see their best possible future as the wives or girlfriends of great men.

When all the dudes, as troubled as they may be, take women (and poor people) enough for granted that

That one of the main dudes, Ronnie, gets a big gallery show by taking photos of women he’s  persuaded to punch themselves. Because women punch themselves for art when an established art dude asks.

That another main dude, a captain of industry, willingly ignores the extensive human toll in Brazilian forests because it enables his profits.

That all the dudes. A peripheral art dude just talks and talks into a tape recorder. Just because. Assuming there’d be some audience, somewhere, even if only among his art circle strivers. Or his wife.

Men make art in galleries. Women make art by living.

Protagonist Reno is such a cipher that she doesn’t even get a first name. She grew up with brothers who worked on cars, so she knows the score.

But when she arrives in NYC to make art, her entrees into that world are too typical: she’s a film model (for film technicians to correct white skin tones) and then she’s a girlfriend.

Because it’s the 70s, and the feminist cycle of loudmouth/backlash/loudmouth/backlash hadn’t matured quite yet, she is too busy observing the whole mishugas to complain about it. Beyond a variety of pithy quotations about men and women (that I bookmarked for this reviewlet before returning the book to the library).

Making this the truest novel I’ve read in a long time.

Meaning, the most feminist novel I’ve read in a long time.

Feminist, but also funny, lively, captivating. A real story.

Best book of 2013? Maybe?!?

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One thought on “Book Reviewlets: The Flamethrowers

  1. […] having to do with gender but also with race, of course, but I’m fixated on gender these days, still, and am less well-informed about writers of color trying to get […]

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