On my radar: Rachel Kushner’s cultural highlights

The acclaimed essayist and novelist on the genius of Don DeLillo, the temptation of motorbikes, and being swept away by CocoRosie

Born in Eugene, Oregon in 1968, writer Rachel Kushner studied political economy at UC Berkeley and earned an MFA in creative writing from Columbia University. She published her first novel, Telex from Cuba, in 2008, followed in 2013 by The Flamethrowers; her third novel, The Mars Room, was shortlisted for the Booker prize in 2018. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son. Her latest book, The Hard Crowd, a collection of essays on politics and culture, is out now (Jonathan Cape).

1. Actor

Shelley Duvall

Shelley Duval with Janice Rule in Three Women.
Shelley Duval with Janice Rule in Three Women. Photograph: Everett Collection Inc/Alamy

Shelley Duvall, with her beauty and her big white teeth and soft gaze, has given so much of herself to us on film that if she needs to live out of the limelight in Texas hill country, she’s earned that right. I’ve been revisiting her masterworks, The Shining and Three Women. She is so different in each. The Shining is the scariest film about domestic violence I’ve ever seen. In Three Women she floats through the desert heat, tall and willowy, in her yellow, midriff-baring, 70s prairie clothes like a Jesus walking on water but with a coy irony we can assume he lacked.

2. Motorbike

The Moto Guzzi V7 III

The V7 III.
Tempting… the V7 III. Photograph: motoguzzi.com

Last month was the 100th anniversary of Guzzi, the make of my first bike (a 1980 V50 III). I gave up riding long ago on account of its dangers. But suddenly I’ve been looking at the new Guzzis and especially this V7 III. Reliving, in mind only, the special torque of their classic transverse V-twin motor. The beauty of these nostalgic and streamlined V7s includes the totally novel promise that you don’t have to be constantly working on them or dating mechanics who can work on them, and instead just wheel a brand-new bike into a dealer for routine maintenance. Tempting!

First Edition Don DeLillo Americana Publisher:Houghton Mifflin Company Date:1971

3. Book

Americana by Don DeLillo

Speaking of anniversaries, it’s the 50th of Don DeLillo’s first novel, Americana, a book whose ending, a drunken orgy on a test track, is sexually explicit but totally oblique. When I recently asked him about that scene and what it means, he demurred but then told me a story about his days as a Madison Avenue ad man, when he was sent to a Sears Roebuck truck-tyre test track in Pecos, Texas. He watched trucks corner and slam on their breaks for three straight days, at the end of which, he wrote an ad for the tyres, and also this magnificent and weird novel about American pathologies.

4. Social media

Ford Galaxie Owners club on Facebook

A Ford Galaxie 500.
A Ford Galaxie 500. Photograph: Alamy

I finally found a use for Facebook, which is this group for people like me, people who own a Ford Galaxie and want advice on maintenance and restoration. To be admitted you have to consent to the rules, one of which is that you pledge “not to talk down on four-doors”. That was almost a dealbreaker. Who doesn’t talk down on four-doors when it comes to classics? A four-door muscle car is an oxymoron. It’s like putting dual exhaust and sport rims on a dining room table.

5. Documentary

Hemingway (Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, 2021)

Ernest Hemingway photographed in Cuba.
Ernest Hemingway photographed in Cuba. Photograph: Alfred Eisenstaedt/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

Some notes I took while watching this: “I want to marry you,” he says repeatedly, or rather, every few years. Put a bullet in a photo of Mary’s ex, in the toilet of his suite at the Ritz, shattered the bowl. Told Mary, “I’ll call you Pete & you call me Katherine.” She writes him a heartfelt lament that their marriage is a failure and he responds: “Stick with me kitten.” When his mother dies, sentimental music, photo of an old woman, image bleached with age, and this voiceover, from a letter Hemingway wrote a friend: “I hate her guts.”

6. Music video

Restless by CocoRosie

Watch the video for Restless by CocoRosie.

This is a goddamned masterpiece and bubblegum bubble of female dazzle and other gymnastic gender feats. It’s a melodic groove and swerve back to the grand and humble roller-rink of yore. It’s catchy and super-creative (she’s singing into a round hairbrush, lol). I haven’t loved everything by these oddball sisters but this one swept me off my feet and made my heart gush. I want the teased hair, the earrings, the agility, the sparkle, the smile, the whole winking sexy-sweet vibe of this world. I want to move in, “You could be home by now,” etc. And by the way, if you don’t love this video you’re probably a serial killer.


Rachel Kushner

The GuardianTramp

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