I will not mince words: I did not like this book. I had high expectations based on all the accolades this novel received, but those expectations did not pan out. The novel is told from the point of view of a nameless main character, whose boyfriend nicknames her Reno after her hometown. After graduating from art school in Nevada in the late sixties, she moves to New York City to try and become an artist. Once in NYC she haphazardly falls in with a pretentious art crowd, including an Italian expat trust fund douche 15 years her senior. The boyfriend pursues Reno and she moves in with him. There is considerable talk about the NYC art world and the characters Reno meets, Reno’s love of motorcycles and speed and desire to become a ‘landscape artist’ (without Reno making many serious moves to make that happen), and then bam! Kushner has Sandro begrudgingly take Reno to Italy to meet his family, who are horrible people. While there, Reno haphazardly falls in with some pro-worker Red Brigade militants and falls out with her boyfriend after he cheats on her with his cousin.
My two main kvetches have to do with the plot and the main character. The plot in the initial section felt aimless, like a Seinfeld episode but not funny as we are introduced to a variety of narcissistic ‘artists’. Once Kushner moves the setting to Italy, we are faced with a new group of unlikeable people, but still very little pull. I suspect this is largely because the main character is a limp, largely aimless presence. She is a great observer- all the Big News reviews mention this and they aren’t wrong- but observation without more is not personality. She says she liked speed and motorcycles, but we get to feel very little of that like aside from two short scenes. She says she wants to go to Italy to do a thing, but once in Italy she is buffeted around by other people’s desires and never ends up doing that thing. I wasn’t even sure she liked the boyfriend that much before the cheating- she just never seemed that interested in him. Her whole life is just waffling from one observation to another.
I am not recommending this book, and I’m not inclined to read any more Kushner.