The Flamethrowers 2: THE BLAZING WORLD
The year was 1975 and Reno—so-called because of the place of her birth—had come to New York intent on turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art. Her arrival coincided with an explosion of activity in the art world—artists had colonized a deserted and industrial SoHo, staging actions in the East Village, which blurred the line between life and art. Reno met a group of dreamers and raconteurs who submitted her to a sentimental education of sorts. Ardent, vulnerable, and bold, she began an affair with an artist named Sandro Valera, the semi-estranged scion of an Italian tire and motorcycle empire. When they visited Sandro’s family home in Italy, Reno fell in with members of the radical movement that overtook Italy in the seventies. Betrayal sent her reeling into a clandestine undertow.
Set four decades later, The Blazing World tells the provocative story of New York-based artist Harriet Burden. After years of watching her work ignored or dismissed by critics, Burden conducts an experiment she calls “Maskings” she presents her own art behind three male masks, concealing her female identity.
The three solo shows are successful, but when Burden finally steps forward triumphantly to reveal herself as the artist behind the exhibitions, there are critics who doubt her. The public scandal turns on the final exhibition, initially shown as the work of acclaimed artist Rune, who denies Burden’s role in its creation. What no one doubts, however, is that the two artists were intensely involved with each other. As Burden’s journals reveal, she and Rune found themselves locked in a charged and dangerous game that ended with the man’s bizarre death.
Ingeniously presented as a collection of texts compiled after Burden’s death, The Blazing World unfolds from multiple perspectives. The exuberant Burden speaks—in all her joy and fury—through extracts from her own notebooks, while critics, fans, family members, and others offer their own conflicting opinions of who she was, and where the truth lies.
From one of the most ambitious and internationally renowned writers of her generation, The Blazing World is a polyphonic tour de force. An intricately conceived, diabolical puzzle, it explores the deceptive powers of prejudice, money, fame, and desire. Emotionally intense, intellectually rigorous, ironic, and playful, Hustvedt’s new novel follows in the great wake of Kusher’s The Flamethrowers, with its engaging exploration of the mystique of the feminine, the fake, the terrorist.