I don’t keep track of the books I abandon unfinished, so I’m not sure how many there have been this year, but it’s possible that Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers is the first one. I don’t mind mentioning it as one I abandoned, because it’s doing quite well, and my dissent from the general consensus that it’s a great book is not going to hurt it. I’m generally reluctant to leave books unfinished, so I usually soldier on, or in some cases, read on full of hope, giving the book a chance to improve. But sometimes, particularly when a book I’m uncertain about is long and feels as though it will never end, I give up. Yes, I know I should feel free to abandon books and that life is so much better when you do. I know that. Please don’t remind me! But I do like to give books a full chance when I can.
The Flamethrowers just wasn’t keeping my attention. It’s about a young woman, Reno, in the 1970s, who goes to New York from Nevada to participate in the art scene there. People have praised it for its portrayal of the New York City scene, and that certainly interests me, but if that’s part of the book’s interest, then I wanted more of it. Reno herself wasn’t coming to life for me either. She is described with too much detachment, and her actions seemed arbitrary. I didn’t understand why she befriended the people she did. And then interspersed among Reno’s story are sections about an Italian man from earlier in the 20th century and his love of motorcycles, and, while I knew these sections were going to connect up with Reno’s story, I still found them dull.
But don’t necessarily take my word for it — lots of people have loved this book and recommended it, so you might like it too. But I have since moved on to a novel I’m enjoying more, so I think I made the right decision.