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I won’t say that this is the best book of all time, because I can’t quite substantiate that, but holy shit is The Flamethrowers AMAZING. I mean, I loved it so much. I haven’t stopped thinking about it since I read it and can’t wait to read it again. I’m also trying to keep composure and wait until I calm down some before I write Rachel Kushner a slew of fan letters. I don’t want to worry her.
In some ways, this is a book about a young woman growing up a tiny, tiny bit. That’s something we’ve all read before (except maybe she even changes less than in other protagonists change over the course of their narratives). In other ways, this is a book about a million things I’ve never read about before at all. Reno (not her real name) is in her very early twenties and, influenced by Land Art and a love of motorcycles, sets off at the start of the book to race across salt flats and then to photograph the line her motorcycle makes in the salt. Wow, right? She works as a China Girl, a woman whose photo serves as the color standard for a film. There are passages about Brazilian rubber workers, the Red Brigade, World War I flamethrowers… so much that was new to me. And then the book went deep into the late seventies Soho art scene. It was so cool how the real history mixed with Kushner’s invention. Her fictional artists and gallerists mix with art historical figures; narratively, there’s no way to tell if John Dogg or John Chamberlain was the fiction. (I won’t erase that because I think it makes my point–I just googled and John Dogg is actually real and I just didn’t know about him). I loved that although Robert Smithson and Dan Flavin exist in the world of the book, Donald Judd doesn’t and because he doesn’t, one of the main characters, Sandro, gets to make Judd-esque art. Read the rest of this entry »
I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying by Matthew Salesses was the second book I read on the beach in Mexico. It is a novel, but comprised of about a hundred and ten tiny chapters that could–and some that at one time were–be read as flash fiction. It is about an unnamed Asian-American man who inherits his previously-unknown five year old son, when the child’s white mother, a one-night stand, dies. The narrator takes on this child with trepidation but not a lot of hesitation, and begins to raise him with the help of his girlfriend, referred to as “the Wifely Woman.” There is also the “Asian girl” and the “white girl”–two women he has on the side, and his friend, Randy, the only person in the whole book that gets a name.
Race is, in large part, what the book is about. The narrator was picked up by the boy’s mother, years ago, when she came on to him with a ridiculous pick up line about “going yellow.” (I read in an interview that this happened to Salesses himself and he stuttered awkwardly and moved away, but then started thinking about who the man would be who would lean in to that situation). So the boy is half-white, but being raised now by two Asian-Americans–the narrator is of Korean descent while the Wifely Woman is of Chinese descent, a fact that disappoints the narrator’s mother. There’s a sweet scene where the narrator introduces the boy to Korean food. In one of the scenes I thought was most interesting, the Asian girl infiltrates the narrator’s other life and is upset most, he thinks, by the fact that the Wifely Woman is also Asian (and prettier). These sort of issues, raised by an Asian-American man, don’t get a lot of cultural play so it was gratifying to read about them being dealt with so specifically. Read the rest of this entry »