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The Flamethrowers, a reader response

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. I met HJ a little more than eleven years ago, and I mentioned the first weekend we spent together that there was a decent chance when we went out in public that I’d run into people I know. It had already happened once at dinner—a woman I’d met in City Hall was seated at the table next to us—and of course a few hours after I mentioned it, it happened again. A guy named Sam, out with his kids and his parents, no one you know. I live in the second largest city in America, so it was not the safest bet, but I stick to a few neighborhoods, so it wasn’t the biggest gamble either. A few weeks later we were at Ikea—bold move for a fledgling romance—and we’d purchased her a cabinet much larger than her Corolla could handle. I looked around the waiting area and there was my friend Darby (Big Josh knows her) and her husband. They let us put the cabinet in their station wagon, and we offered them a bottle of Irish whiskey when they dropped it off. “I couldn’t,” said Darby. “Not so fast,” said her husband.

A little less than eleven years ago, we went to Italy for my sister’s thirtieth birthday, lodging at a former convent that had been turned into a home for wayward heirloom botanicals, gathered from across the land. Rare pear trees and the like. HJ and I split off after a spell and went to Venice just the two of us. I noticed in Venice that I had developed a nervous habit. I was perpetually looking around for people I knew. There were so many people there, and it seemed likely to me, unconsciously, that I was about to run into someone I knew. But of course, I was far out of my handful of neighborhoods. So I just gave myself a neck ache.

A few nights in, we found a small restaurant near the university neighborhood. We were about to leave when I learned they didn’t take credit cards. HJ stayed back while I found an ATM. We left twenty minutes later than we meant to, but at that exact moment, and not twenty minutes earlier, I heard a very familiar voice coming through the tiny dark street. The voice approached and I called out, “Abe?” It was indeed our, your and my, mutual friend Abe. What a surprise, in the way that something your neck has been expecting can objectively be a surprise. We walked over to a university bar and had Spritzes and he introduced us to the girl from the Guggenheim he was walking here and there, and showed me an art project he’d been working on. He walked all over Venice carrying a GPS device in a recording mode, then he printed out the recorded paths and thus created his own personal map of Venice. We hung out the next day, too, riding around in the sardine cans, looking at the buildings from the canals.

The last time I spoke to our friend Abe, he was living in Dubai, and I’m not sure how he knew to contact me but I put him in touch with a friend’s sister who was in Africa working on energy. I wasn’t quite sure what to make of his intentions, but the kind of person who likes to see people he knows also likes to introduce people, and who am I to say that my friend who does energy in Africa shouldn’t meet my friend who wants to do energy business in Africa?  All sorts of schemes make the world go round.

July 27, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | Comments Off on The Flamethrowers, a reader response

Flamethrowers III: Watching It Burn

I don’t think of myself as a contrarian critic, but as soon as I read Andreas and Joshua’s agreeing with my generally negative take on the middle of Kushner’s novel, I started liking the book better, including the structural flaws that anyone could point to, and I only got tetchy at the very end, or in some sense after the very end.  Arguably this is because in the last four chapters Reno is portrayed as being on (what I deem to be) the Right Side of History, and of art history; or rather, as the time-line of the novel gets a bit gnarled, Reno finally gets to be on the same side of history that Kushner herself seems to be on.

Continue reading

July 15, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 3 Comments

Flamethrowers II: Just like the ’60s, Only with Less Hope

This post is late, almost two-and-a-half days late.  If you inferred from that that I have been sick, a copy of Kushner on the bed table while I lay trying to get more than four hours of sleep with a heavy perpetual cough, you would have been right, for the first few days.  But I got better, and yet I still couldn’t make reading the book a priority.  So my apologies, as the person who chose this book, because I am more and more realizing that this book is not “for me.” (I think some of you felt that way last time around with The Flame Alphabet.) Some of my comments and topics for discussion will probably seem dutiful, though not I hope perfunctory, and I hope to keep from being a party poop if you’re enjoying it more than I am. Continue reading

July 10, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 13 Comments

Kushner, The Flamethrowers I: Topics of Interest?

Now that I’ve finished reading chs. 1-7 of Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers, I can hope to start asking questions about it, up to and including the most global questions –why do we still read fiction in 2018?, why do we read fiction at all?, why does anybody read anything?– down through the more specific questions of why this book?, what kind of book is it?, how does it address us?, what are its goals?.  When you pick a book to read not entirely at random but only by reputation, as we did three years ago with Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet and Tom McCarthy’s C, we risk that the answers to these questions might disappoint. Continue reading

July 1, 2018 Posted by | boredom | | 9 Comments

Summer 2018 Reading: Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers; José Donoso, The Obscene Bird of Night

(For what remains of) This summer, I invite you all to read along with me two books, and comment on them with me here on WordPress/Heteronymy.  The first book is a great roller-coaster of a novel I meant to read back when it came out in 2013, Rachel Kushner’s THE FLAMETHROWERS, which is about New York in the 1970s, a topic of fascination to people who were too young to remember it in real life (and to people like me, who whooshed off to college and barely saw it in real life).  The other book is a bizarre quasi-Surrealist take on a crumbling family and society in Chile in the 1960s, José Donoso’s THE OBSCENE BIRD OF NIGHT (1970), a novel overshadowed by more user-friendly and sentimental Great Big Novels of the Latin American Boom by García Márquez, Fuentes, and Cortázar, but just as great and big.  I’ve never read the Kushner novel; I have only read the Donoso novel in translation, thirty years ago, and am looking forward to giving it the real reading that it deserves.

As we did three years ago when we read David Marcus and Tom McCarthy, we’ll give ourselves page targets and try to get it all done before my semester starts in Oberlin.  Given page lengths, I think that means three weeks for Kushner (383pp.) and four weeks for Donoso (440pp.).  While Todo México was glued to the TV screen this morning I was at the Strand and have purchased my copy of The Flamethrowers.  It looks as though we should aim thusly:
Week One (blog comments on Sun July 1):  Chaps 1-7 (–> p.110)
Week Two (blog comments on Sun July 8):  Chaps 8-14 (–>p.263)
Week Three (blog comments on Sun July 15): finish.
I hope this will intrigue, and of course delight and instruct.

June 23, 2018 Posted by | boredom | , | Comments Off on Summer 2018 Reading: Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers; José Donoso, The Obscene Bird of Night