The year is 1975, and our narrator, Reno is a young artist in her twenties that decides to move from the city from which she got her name (Reno, Nevada), struggling to find her voice in New York City. Reno is an observer, she is very quiet and keeps to herself, she observes people and their behaviour closely and truth be told, she does not show much of a personality throughout the novel. On the other hand, Reno is a competition skier, she rides a Moto Valera motorcycle, she wears a leather jacket, she goes to Bonneville Salt Flats in Nevada to compete in motorcycle racing where she ends up setting the women´s world record for land speed in a car. With her exceptional love for speed and thrill you could say that Reno is a daredevil, she is quite the badass.
Quickly after moving to New York, Reno meets a waitress that goes by the name Giddle. Giddle claims that she works as a waitress as a form of art. Reno and Giddle have a very strange relationship, but Giddle becomes her first friend. Giddle is constantly reinventing herself and therefore Reno is never really sure what is the truth and what is a lie.
The New York art scene is very noticeable in the novel. Reno falls in with a crowd of successful artists who are pushing the boundaries of art. Through the art scene she meets all types of artists, both the successful ones and the struggling ones. She goes to art gallery openings, dinner parties and is exposed to art and artists at all times. New York was at that time a kind of a playground for artists, they had access to old factories and manufacturing warehouses that they simply took over. Reno continually listens to stories of people who are nominally famous in the New York art scene, stories she is not sure are true or just fiction that the storytellers repeat to make themselves seem larger than life. The New York art scene is full of people pretending to be who they aren´t, while innocent little Reno simply tries to be.
Although Reno tells her good friend Ronnie Fontaine “I didn´t move here to fall in love”, Reno falls for two men in New York, both of them artist of course. Her boyfriend Sandro Valera is 14 years older then she is, he is Italian and comes from the wealthy Valera family, which made its fortune manufacturing motorcycles. Sandro as a person is very dysfunctional, his whole family is complicated, their factory becomes a flashpoint for violent protests and he also feeds of Reno´s energy. Sandro is not a likeable or relatable character in the novel, quite the opposite. Then there is Ronnie Fontaine, he is Sandro´s best friend and also Reno´s good friend, who tells long stories that are either lies or truths or something in-between, no one knows, but there seems to be something between him and Reno, some connection, something unexplainable. You could say that Ronnie is the lover that Reno should have chosen, she realizes later that she has feelings for him.
Reno decides to travel to Italy with her boyfriend Sandro for business and also to meet the Valera family, which are a bunch of snobbish, rude, boring and arrogant people. In Italy, Reno learns about the Valera family’s rubber plantations and the corrupt money they produce. After a big slap in the face during her visit, Reno runs off and gets caught up in the revolt that is breaking out in Italy, where she falls in with a crowd of activists and is exposed to the dangers and the eye-opening reality of what is really going on in Italy. Reno makes her way out of Italy and back to New York, heartbroken and sad, but wiser than when she left. Moving from her small hometown in Nevada to New York, working her way into New York´s most prestigious art communities, travelling to Italy and getting her heart broken, we as readers get to see Reno grow and mature throughout the novel, it takes time, but she eventually grows. Reno´s story is defined by self-discovery, love and solidarity. Kushner has Reno struggling towards the realization that her life might not be ideal after all, making her learn from what she experiences.
Sex is a big part of the novel; we have one night stands, sexual partners, pornography, cheating, fetishes, sex talk, masturbators, live sex, leather, a porn theater and we even have sex between relatives. Among other things that are a big part of the novel we have speed, desire, political radicalism, the Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers, the Red Brigades, riots in Italy and the New York blackout. The novel is a sort of a historical fiction based loosely on some actual events, it moves through various locations and periods that somehow become connected by the end of the novel.
To be honest, it took me a while to get into the novel, I was about to stop reading when I had gotten past the first 50 pages but after that, I got to the point where I could not put the book down. I would say that not every part of the book is equally exciting but when it comes down to it, this novel has so much to offer the reader. The novel has art, politics, motorcycles, guns, love, sex, action, drugs, alcohol, murders.. what´s not to like? If you are at all interested in any of these things, this novel keeps you glued. I thought that the book was very funny at times, extremely exciting and very original. It contains so many intriguing characters and it is overall so fearless.
The book does not answer any questions but gives the reader more than enough to examine, it makes you think once you finish the book. Kushner clearly did her research and she did it well. Her writing is fantastic, she has the ability to put the reader right into the experience. I will definitely look forward to more of Kushner´s work.