THE HARD CROWD
272pp. Cape. 18.99 [pounds sterling].
Discussing the images that inspired The Flamethrowers (2013), her novel of 1970s art and revolution, Rachel Kushner notes how many depict men with guns and women with their clothes off. What does this say about the decade? "Many things, I'm sure", she writes, "but for starters, it means people were getting out of the studio." It is no wonder Kushner is attracted to such active artists. The Hard Crowd, a collection of essays written between 2000 and 2020, confirms her as a writer who, at least until recently, has preferred participation over observation.
"Girl on a Motorcycle" establishes her adventurous spirit. With the velocity of a short story, Kushner recalls her participation in the Cabo 1000, an illegal, 1,000-mile motorcycle race in Mexico, in 1992. One of only three women racing, she must navigate "a winding series of blind corners and hairpin turns" at over 100mph. In her early twenties and not yet a published author, she brings to her Ninja 600 motorcycle the care and attention she'll later devote to essays like this, as she takes pleasure in the rugged language of the gear: "stainless-steel after-market valves, a resurfaced cylinder head, a high-performance carburetor jet kit". As it turns out, the Cabo 1000 will mark the end of her life as a serious rider. As she blazes down the highway at 130mph, the fastest she's ever gone, someone cuts in front of her and Kushner wipes out: "I see the tire leave the road, and then I am up in midair over the bike". Miraculously, she survives with nothing but cuts and a sprained ankle, but her bike is stolen and she loses all her belongings, including her ID. Even as she's reduced to zero, "I felt strangely happy ... my attitude was intact".
Like all the memoir pieces in this book, "Girl on a Motorcycle"--a title she takes from a film of 1968 starring Marianne Faithfull and Alain Delon--is really about Kushner's becoming an artist. Although she takes an ironic view of her mechanic boyfriend and the masculine milieu of the motorcycle world, Kushner wonders whether an authentic female perspective can ever really be achieved on a motorcycle. After all, it was her father who got her into riding, and Faithfull's entire reason for being on a bike was to visit Delon. But Kushner concludes that, even if a man inspired the journey, a...