The first sentence of Stephanie Danler’s riveting debut novel is perhaps more an injunction than an imperative: “You will develop a palate.” Over the 355 pages of Sweetbitter, the narrator, twenty-two-year-old Tess, encounters a number of appetites. She arrives in New York City during the heat wave of 2006 and applies for a job at a prestigious Manhattan restaurant. The manager, a man, stares at her just a little too long—the black sundress, the pilled cardigan wet with sweat—and we sense that her education will soon begin. Oysters, Pinot Noir, lines of coke at the bar. “The sour, the salty, the sweet, the bitter.” Read More
Tonight at seven, Rachel Kushner launches the paperback edition of her wonderful novel The Flamethrowers—she’ll be in conversation with The New Yorker’s James Wood at the Powerhouse Arena, in Dumbo. (Note to the uninitiated: it’s a bookstore, not an arena, though it would be something to live in a world where a Kushner/Wood bill could sell out Madison Square Garden.)
As we mentioned briefly yesterday, The Flamethrowers is one of eight books to have been shortlisted for the inaugural Folio Prize, the first major English-language book prize open to writers from around the world. Its aim? “To celebrate the best fiction of our time, regardless of form or genre, and to bring it to the attention of as many readers as possible.” Kushner is in good company: the other nominees are Anne Carson, Amity Gaige, Jane Gardam, Kent Haruf, Eimear McBride, Sergio de la Pava, and George Saunders. The winner will be announced on March 10; we wish her the best of luck.
But perhaps these recent developments aren’t enough to slake your Kushnerphilia. Should this be the case, we recommend her short story “Blanks,” excerpted from The Flamethrowers in our Winter 2012 issue. Or, from that same issue, the collection of art and photography she curated—images that inspired the novel. Or her interview with Jesse Barron, published on the Daily last year.
You can also read James Wood’s acute review of The Flamethrowers, published last year in The New Yorker—a fitting appetizer for his conversation with Kushner tonight.
For the first time in its sixty-three-year history, the National Book Foundation has published longlists for each of its four award categories. The fiction longlist was announced this morning, and it features a range of celebrated and debut authors, including Thomas Pynchon, Jhumpa Lahiri, Anthony Marra, and Paris Review contributor Rachel Kushner, for her latest novel, The Flamethrowers. Congratulations to all!
On The Flamethrowers, Kushner writes in her essay from our Winter 2012 issue:
As I wrote, events from my time, my life, began to echo those in the book, as if I were inside a game of call and response. While I wrote about ultraleft subversives, The Coming Insurrection, a book written by an anonymous French collective, was published in the United States, and its authors were arrested in France. As I wrote about riots, they were exploding in Greece. As I wrote about looting, it was rampant in London. The Occupy movement was born on the University of California campuses, and then reborn as a worldwide phenomenon, and by the time I needed to describe the effects of tear gas for a novel about the 1970s, all I had to do was watch live feeds from Oakland, California.
An appeal to images is a demand for love. We want something more than just their mute glory. We want them to give up a clue, a key, a way to cut open a space, cut into a register, locate a tone, without which the novelist is lost.
It was with images that I began The Flamethrowers. By the time I finished, I found myself with a large stash.
You can read an excerpt from The Flamethrowers here.
Readers of The Paris Review will remember a portfolio and a novel excerpt by Rachel Kushner in our Winter issue. Now that book—The Flamethrowers—is out and earning raves (“It unfolds on a bigger, brighter screen than nearly any recent American novel I can remember,” says today’s New York Times). Click here to read our excerpt and here to see (and read about) the artworks that inspired the novel.