Saturday 9 October 2021


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The Hard Crowd by Rachel Kushner  {Reviewed by STELLA}
Rachel Kushner’s essays in The Hard Crowd read both like edgy youthful memories giving us a window into a life lived on the edge of danger, as well as intelligent analyses of political structures and cultural output. From the daring of her motorcycle racing days and obsessions with classic cars (it’s not surprising the opening scene in The Flamethrowers kicks such adrenaline on the page), in the opening essay 'Girl on a Motorcycle' to her conversations about literary intrigues Marguerite Duras, Clarice Lispector and Denis Johnson to mention a few, to her knowledge of Italian 1970s politics and prison reform which play a major role respectively, in The Flamethrowers and The Mars Room, to her connections and interest in the New York art scene, the collected essays are varied in style. Some are self-effacing and gritty, in line with the popular 'personal essay' trend, yet Kushner’s memories remain dark, honest and absorbing without the cloyingness of the self-reflective and sometimes self-satisfied elements of this form. In her essays about writers, she is endlessly fascinating, almost finding her way through the writing — through description, analysis and the anecdotal to an understanding or a reflective essence of the writer and their work — giving us, the reader, an insight that makes us wish to seek out not more about the said author, but their output — to delve for ourselves into their words. There’s also a great essay with accompanying images (film stills, photographs and other ephemera), 'Made to Burn', which considers the influences and research for her novel The Flamethrowers. It’s filled with quirky snippets of information, as many of the essays are, which cast small surprises like flitting shadows and light bulb moments — observations that rub up against each other creating a texture that marries guns and art, writers and alcohol, and the adrenaline of competitive danger with fierce loyalty. And in pure juxtaposition to this hard-arse style are essays that will stop you in your tracks: a heartbreaking visit to a Palestinian refugee camp that is so established that it is functionally a dysfunctional town, and a conversation with an American prison abolitionist that raises some hard questions about incarceration. In The Hard Crowd, Kushner describes herself as the soft one, but these punchy essays make me think there are different kinds of softness, and Kushner's is one that has a core of steel, unafraid to look with intent.

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