Rachel Kushner’s new novel, The Flamethrowers, has been generating a lot of buzz in book circles. I haven’t read it yet, and I’m not sure I’m even planning to, but I have to admit that I’m curious.
Most of the recent conversation has centered on Kushner’s novel being lauded by many and considered as a contender for that vaunted “Great American Novel” status. Obviously, this is wonderful news for Kushner and her fans. So why the controversy?
Well, it seems that a certain portion of the population (the male one) may be a bit blown away by the novel’s ambition, scope, and power. As Laura Miller contends in her Salon article, the same critics that have praised Philip Roth, Jonathan Franzen, and John Updike in the past for similarly ambitious novels, have expressed a good amount of skepticism when it comes to Kushner’s novel. Her female protagonist Reno, is described as an anomaly, brazen and aggressive in her confidence. NY Times critic Dwight Garner said by the end of the book Kushner had “burned down whatever resistance you might have toward her talent or her narrative.” This statement implies an inherent resistance to her talent…why? Because she’s a woman writer?
Perhaps Miller is reading too much into these male analyses, but it’s difficult to discount her theory, given the absolute male bias of the literary world. When is the last time you heard a novel by a woman being called “the Great American Novel”? Which leads me to my next question–if you were to name female contenders for this “Great American Novel” title, which book would it be? My top 5 nominees (from the last 100 years) would be:
- The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers
- Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson
- Beloved, Toni Morrison
- The Namesake, Jhumpa Lahiri
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith