Rachel Kushner’s latest novel is The Flamethrowers. Her debut novel, Telex from Cuba, was a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award and the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, winner of the California Book Award, and a New York Times bestseller and Notable Book. It was named a best book by the Washington Post Book Book World, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Christian Science Monitor, and Amazon. Kushner's fiction and essays have appeared in the New York Times, The Paris Review, The Believer, Artforum, Bookforum, Fence, Bomb, Cabinet, and Grand Street.
From her Q & A with Jesse Barron for The Paris Review Daily:
Your first novel was written from multiple points of view, but Flamethrowers is first person, with a few relatively minor deviations. Was it easy to make that decision?Learn about Kushner's ten top books about 1970s art.
No. I deliberated in a tortured and endless way over what the voice was going to be, whether it was going to be first or third person. The first year I was writing this book I hadn’t decided. I would go to friends’ readings and raise my hand at the end and ask, Why did you choose to tell the story in third person? And people would look at me like, Why would you ask such a basic question? But to me these basic questions must be asked and answered for every single book.
At this point in my life, I’m not that interested in third person. There’s a certain falsity when a character is given a full name and a set of characteristics and can be seen from outside. To me it speaks of a kind of realism whose artifice I have a hard time shaking, as a writer, in order to get inside what I am doing and imagine it fully. The first-person narrator of Bolaño’s Savage Detectives is almost like water. He doesn’t have much of a “voice.” And he doesn’t always matter in a scene. He’ll just be background—someone else has taken over. There is often a skid in the narration from one character to the next, even as it’s being told by the first-person narrator, and this influenced me. I had been looking to find a first person who came across like thought, who could be drowned out and overrun in the way that we as people can be overrun by others. Having a point of view doesn’t mean you’re always in control or couching everything in running commentary. That’s fiction.
Proust gets away with these impossible formal propositions in his use of first person. He’s telling you about, say, a private conversation between two people where Marcel cannot possibly be in the room. It’s a real invention inside literary modernism. For me, an uninflected voice is something I’m drawn to. Partly because...[read on]