Thus it was that I decided to purchase the audio version of Kushner's book as a means of justifying my reading a book already published. Listening to it in the car, I rationalized, is entirely acceptable. I cagily waited until Brilliance Audio re-issused their compact disc set for $19.99 (down from the original price of $29.99) and I've been listening to it for the last two weeks on my drive to work each day.
The audio is read by Christina Traister, and let the record show that she was a capable performer, rendering even the male voices pretty well, easily switching among various English language accents and dialects: Western USA, Italian, and Brooklyn. The writing was occasionally noteworthy
"Reno" (we never actually learn her real name) is a young woman who moves to New York in the mid 1970s after finishing an art degree at a regional Nevada university. I hesitate to say that she makes friends among the art community, but she meets artists who use her, and whom she intends to use in return. Despite being the first person narrator for most of the book, Reno plays her cards pretty close to her chest. It's almost impossible to tell, for example, what she really thinks of her lover Sandro, his friend Ronnie, the cafe girl Giddle (this is a phonetic spelling from the audio), or the outrageous and maddening anarchist group called the Mother Fuckers (they think women are only useful as cooks, cleaners, and sexual receptacles, they think work is for suckers, and that it's okay to loot stores and kill those people who try to tell them that looting stores isn't okay).
I certainly know what *I* think of all of them though: user, poseur, loser, and dangerously asinine and backwards-thinking, respectively. These are people whose idea of a brilliant artistic statement is to get women to punch themselves in the face, then photograph them and hang them in a gallery. Or to live outside for one year. Or to cut a house in half. Or to put a pool of water on a gallery floor and light it strategically to luminesce the walls. Or to get a job as a cafe waitress so your entire life is one big piece of performance art as a cafe waitress. I never did decide whether these people who take themselves uber-seriously were more laughable, pathetic or just plain boring.
Reno rides motorcycles and wants to make kinetic landscape art, and her big idea, the one that Sandro hails as being another brilliant artistic statement, is to ride her motorcycle on the salt flats in Utah and then take photographs of the marks left by her tires. Uh huh. Okey-dokey.
Suffice it to say that Reno does that, but she wipes out and somehow falls in with an Italian company called Valera, who've produced tires for the car that holds the world's land speed record. And Sandro just happens to be the son of the Italian scion Valera. So they travel to Italy together, where Reno discovers that Sandro's mother is extremely unpleasant and controlling, and she catches Sandro in flagrante delicto with his first cousin, Taglia. She runs away, upset at his infidelity, and for the rest of the book I keep saying to myself, "Wait, does nobody else realize that Taglia and Sandro are first cousins? Why do none of the characters seem to care about that?"
I think I'm actually making this book sound a lot more interesting than it really was. Because mostly nothing happens, except people sit around talking in a self-congratulatory manner about how awesome and brilliant and revolutionary they are, when really their conversations are boorish, boring, and most of all, masturbatory.
There are a couple of bookend sections that refer to a group of soldiers during WWI who were known as flamethrowers. How they actually pertained to the content of the book is tenuous at best and non-existent at worst. And while I'm on a rant, why the hell isn't there a hyphen in the title if flamethrowers is supposed to be one word, yet written across two lines?
You can color me supremely unimpressed by this book. This was a colossal waste of my money. With most books that garner such incredible accolades, even if I don't care for them, at least I can usually see what other people might see in them. This one, though? Not one little bit.
You may well wonder why I bothered to listen to the whole thing. Partly was because I kept thinking it would have to get better. Partly was because I was too lazy-cheap to buy something else to listen to.
NB: This book was published by Scribner in April 2013. In case you didn't already see my disclaimer above, I purchased my own copy of the audio book.