Kushner reminds us that she writes as well as any writer alive about the pleasure of a good motor doing what it was designed to do ... The essays in The Hard Crowd aren’t all about motorcycles and antique muscle cars, another of Kushner’s pet topics...But The Hard Crowd swings back around to engines and to motion. The author had found wings; she meant to use them. We watch her move her soul around ... This book has a real gallery of souls.
Whether she’s writing about Jeff Koons, prison abolition or a Palestinian refugee camp in Jerusalem, [Kushner's] interested in appearances, and in the deeper currents a surface detail might betray ... Her writing is magnetised by outlaw sensibility, hard lives lived at a slant, art made in conditions of ferment and unrest, though she rarely serves a platter that isn’t style-mag ready ... She makes a pretty convincing case for a political dimension to Jeff Koons’s vacuities and mirrored surfaces, engages repeatedly with the Italian avant garde and writes best of all about an artist friend whose death undoes a spell of nihilism ... It’s not just that Kushner is looking back on the distant city of youth; more that she’s the sole survivor of a wild crowd done down by prison, drugs, untimely death ... What she remembers is a whole world, but does the act of immortalising it in language also drain it of its power,'neon, in pink, red, and warm white, bleeding into the fog'? She’s mining a rich seam of specificity, her writing charged by the dangers she ran up against. And then there’s the frank pleasure of her sentences, often shorn of definite articles or odd words, so they rev and bucket along ... That New Journalism style, live hard and keep your eyes open, has long since given way to the millennial cult of the personal essay, with its performance of pain, its earnest display of wounds received and lessons learned. But Kushner brings it all flooding back. Even if I’m sceptical of its dazzle, I’m glad to taste something this sharp, this smart.
... in this collection, featuring 19 pieces of edgy memoir, eclectic journalism and diverse criticism, Kushner consistently delivers on the promise of that exciting opener ... Kushner bravely dives into controversial territory ... Not every one of Kushner's pieces will enchant every reader, but The Hard Crowd consistently showcases the work of a conscientious, engaged journalist. Her talent for writing fiction is already well-recognized, but this introduction to her nonfiction showcases the breadth of her talent.
Kushner, primarily known for her fiction, proves she’s also a master essayist in The Hard Crowd: 19 pieces of memoir and criticism that display her omnivorous tastes in literature, art and history ... her writing is tough and skulky, snaking through the past, nearly emotionally impenetrable at times. Kushner involves herself only when necessary and prefers, like most fiction writers, to look outward ... In looking outward, she renders the world coolly, encapsulating an entire mood in a single stroke ... Throughout these essays, Kushner steals back subjects normally hopelessly tied to masculinity, like classic cars, dive bars, Marxism and motorcycles. Despite these essays spanning two decades, there’s something essentially Kushner-esque threaded throughout, a sense of cool girl remove, which is tempered by her engaged activist interests in prison abolition and workers rights. While this collection is best for fans, it’s also a good introduction for the uninitiated, as long as they don’t mind passing brainy references to Lacan and Cixous ... Despite Kushner’s reluctance to take center stage, the personal essays shine ... References to since-shuttered establishments vividly evoke an era when motorcycle mechanics and bike messengers could afford to live in the city, and Kushner ultimately delivers a heavy hit of nostalgia that will make any San Franciscan’s heart lurch.
... takes the reader on a wild ride. [Kushner] is the kind of writer who comes straight at you in understated sentences that always add up to much more than their individual parts of speech. Her essays, like her fiction, are invariably thought provoking and moving, by turns surprising and heartbreaking ... impressionistic and tantalizing...compelling the reader to connect eclectic images and anecdotes that add up to a meditation on entropy, death, art, and memory ... A few of the essays in Kushner’s collection are esoteric, drifting from the impressionistic into the arcane, but even the murky moments usually have the quick and surprising light of a shooting star to them.
... not so much Kushner’s own memoir as a group biography of recklessness. Contained within her flippant self-construction-as-bore is in fact a claim on the exciting—a suggestion that the writer’s own softness is key to her accurate rendering of others’ hardness ... A flirtation with self-deprecation turns by a literary sleight of hand to a lofty self-appointment. Not boring after all but rather a vessel for excitement—the voice of a brood of Californian kids, a kind of Joan Didion for our times ... Kushner’s relations with her subjects have an air of ethical unevenness. Where her connection with a wounded child refugee starts with a vested interest—beginning with the intention to write—the child is rendered more of an instrument than, say, a friend who merely happens to be interesting. Kushner’s strategy as an essayist, however—here is the real departure from Didion—is to grapple with precisely this problem ... If Kushner’s essays are records of a certain incapacity, never do they entertain the idea of nothing to conclude. They posit a kind of authority that is bounded by what is subjective without lapsing through interiority into grammars of bewildered emotion. It is not enough, for Kushner, simply to report her feelings about bygone lives, nor to reduce her truth claims to the statement ‘I was there’. She wants us to know what happened between her and her hard crowd, however remote the encounter.
... brilliant ... offers many insights — elegies bracing and tender, maps to the conceptual geometries where art meets commerce, and lapidary homages to writers whose gifts have informed [Cusk's] thinking ... Pictures in this collection remain afterimages the mind’s eye cannot easily blink away ... These essays are more committed to investigating the choices people make within their circumscribed locales than to lingering over the self writ small ... Across these essays, Kushner gives us indestructible characters — people who are just themselves — as she simultaneously prompts readers to consider 'what life was like for a person such as them' ... In her work, want is not so much something to be cauterized as to be explored. Her essays parse this condition in two ways: as desire and as deprivation.
From the first time I read Rachel Kushner’s novels, I thought about nonfiction. The biting yet elegant voices of her narrators reminded me of literary criticism, and the detailed renderings of people and places I thought resembled journalism ... The Hard Crowd collects writing that Kushner has done outside of her career as a novelist, and in doing so fleshes out the story of how Kushner the novelist came to be. The Hard Crowd will doubtlessly appeal to fans of her fiction, especially because the writing often explicitly deals with the novels, photographs, and movies that inspired her own work. But the book’s appeal is not limited to existing fans, or even readers who share her interests; Kushner can spin a compelling story out of the most esoteric subjects or minute details ... writing for her is a process of capturing on the page some of the liveliness of the people she admires ... Although the dominant mode of The Hard Crowd is reflective, it also paints Kushner as a writer attuned to the present, even the future. The Hard Crowd is an engaging collection that demonstrates Kushner’s skill at weaving together the anecdotes, personalities, art, and literature she has absorbed through her life.
Kushner might have made drinks with a Rolling Stone all night long, but a part of her is also the observer, noting things down for later use...In this, and in other sections throughout the book, are echoes of her great predecessor, Joan Didion, in particular the latter’s charting of the hedonism of San Francisco in the 1960s and 1970s...That same sentiment of mining life’s experiences for precious nuggets is evident throughout The Hard Crowd ... Reader engagement with some of the cultural commentary essays, which range from obscure Italian cinema, to the writing and life of Marguerite Duras, to the artwork of Jeff Koons, will depend on the level of interest in these particular topics. It is clear that Kushner is a sharp cultural commentator, offering original insights on her subjects, often making cross-cultural comparisons that show the breadth of her knowledge ... And the prose is always engaging ... Whether the material is personal, cultural or political – there are essays on Palestinian refugee camps and reform of the US prison system – one thing is clear: for a writer of Rachel Kushner’s ability, everything is gold.
That act of close listening is key to Kushner’s broader artistic project. Any social revolutionary process, she writes, citing both Marx and Balestrini, must be rooted in actual working-class experience. And in her novels, which frequently ask us to attend to voices on the margins, we can see this revolutionary process at work ... There is still much for this writer to pull into her work, both from the world and from herself.
... a writer seemingly of another time ... Kushner’s first collection of essays,assured intelligence of an autodidact, a distrust of easy answers, and a preternatural gift for situating textured human narratives and political struggles within a wide, cinematic frame ... Kushner’s settings are united by little beyond her wide-set vision, which details each setting and character with cinematic realism and old-school, Dostoyevskian depth. Through these essays we are given access to some of her most powerful influences and instincts. The essays come together to form an image of the writer as a vehicle through which images and experiences pass, rather than a pulpit out of which declarations are issued. In other words, Kushner reminds us of the crucial difference between writing and branding.
... through all the death—and because of it—Kushner’s collection is about the literary life. Nearly every essay here ponders what it takes to be a writer, and who it’s taken from ... Kushner is the rare example from her generation to express genuine ambivalence about the literary value of her every self-deprecating thought ... The ambivalence of it all: to close this collection’s ungodly rush with a shrug, and so it goes—until the writer turns their guns around. Writers on writers on writers, amen.
Much is revealed in this vitalizing essay collection. Kushner’s autobiographical pieces illuminate complicated aspects of her adventurous life and why and how she developed the skills to write about it with such breath-catching clarity and polished rigor, the literary equivalent of the fine-tuned mechanics of the motorcycles and classic cars she treasures. Here are riveting accounts ... Kushner is also an astute and vigorous literary essayist, parsing with distinct insights works by Marguerite Duras, Denis Johnson, and Clarice Lispector. She also incisively profiles artists and visionary prison abolitionist Ruth Wilson Gilmore ... tell she does, steering her way through perilous curves with steely agility and purpose, leaving her passengers exultant and enlightened.
It’s that intense, discerning absorption, coupled with a deep knowledge acquired through reading literature and philosophy beyond her social milieu (a virtue for which she barely gives herself credit), that really knits The Hard Crowd together. Every page unfolds with an energy and rigor that places it distinctly apart from typical survival-lit fare whose superficial sensations can pall after a few dangerous yarns ... She doesn’t 'gentrify' anyone with words; in fact, it's often quite the opposite. Her language flows without any sense of effort into shapes that suit her subject of the moment. And in the continuum of life as we prefer to know it, that’s all many of her youthful friends and mentors had --- just moments to flash across her path and be gone, like small meteors burning up in the unforgiving atmosphere of here-and-now reality ... Unable to pick a single favorite among the 19 diverse and always surprising reflections that comprise The Hard Crowd, I can only say that each one is a powerful 'trip' on multiple levels. They often run pell-mell into one another, crashing, burning or floating away at their own pace.
Though these pieces have been published before, all have been edited or reworked for this volume, which means that rather than giving a sense of an essayist in development, the book highlights the sheer variety of subjects that have interested, perplexed, and troubled the writer throughout her career ... A certain American landscape — truck shops and dark bars, stripped of glamour but loaded with a certain insouciant cool — often provides a backdrop to her work. Kushner herself is a writer who embodies that cool. Raised by politically engaged parents in San Francisco, she speaks with authority and confidence on politics and history, and has an eye for the contradictions inherent in the particularities of American capitalism ... Though Kushner is a decidedly erudite writer, the essays in the collection vary in quality, and some of the less successful works feel too meandering ... Though this collection varies in quality, the sheer range of subjects is startling ... shows a writer intent on tackling each object of scrutiny with an unsentimental eye, not seeking to come to conclusions, but to sit with the problems that may emerge.
Kushner writes with equal verve about the self’s ecstatic movement into the world and the world’s permeation of self ... Kushner’s attention to precise contradictions lends texture to her prose ... Still, or yet again, a paradox glints under these recollections. Electric with life, they suggest she never quite left.
Many of the pieces in this collection are memorable portraits of artists, writers, and musicians that emphasize their eccentricities, charisma, and legacies. Kushner’s own voice is always present, but those essays that most directly address her personal experiences feel the most alive. Kushner shares her stories in a way that manages to be personal but not self-serving ... The final essay is also a standout, full of reflections on Kushner’s upbringing in San Francisco and the people and changes she encountered there ... There is a great deal of variety and personality in this essay collection, especially for readers with an eye for art, music, and literature. Those who enjoy Kushner’s novels will gravitate to this collection, and readers new to the author’s writing will be drawn in as well.
Character sketches and nostalgic detail pepper this wide-ranging essay collection ... The memoir essays sometimes settle for simple nostalgia rather than arriving at a revelation, a dilemma Kushner seems aware of ... Still, the author’s fans will enjoy these insights into her evolution as a writer.
The essays serve as testaments to the author’s talent for marshaling her softness into a curiosity that allows her to write capably on a variety of subjects. These include the exceptional opening essay ... A few of these pieces would have benefited from more reflection ... Still, the best essays are superb ... Fascinating insight into the development of an inquisitive, probing authorial mind.