The Hard Crowd

The Hard Crowd coverThe Hard Crowd: Essays 2000-2020
Rachel Kushner
Scribner (April 6, 2021), 246 pages
Kindle edition $13.99, Amazon paperback $12.99

I first became familiar with Rachel Kushner a while back when I began reading her novel The Flamethrowers. I only got halfway through with it when I got bogged down. It wasn’t too much of a loss, though, as I bought the Kindle edition in an Early Bird Books sale for something like $2.99. How I was not aware of The Hard Crowd, which was published in 2021, until recently I have no idea. I’m always happy to read a book of well-written essays, however, so I thought I’d give the present volume a go. I was, for the most part, not disappointed.

The opening essay suggests Kushner has a lot in common with her female protagonist in The Flamethrowers. In the novel, the character is involved with a team trying to set a land speed record in the salt flats of the American Southwest. In the opening essay of The Hard Crowd, a rather long piece, Kushner describes participating in the Baja 1000, an illegal motorcycle race that went from San Ysidro, on the California/Mexico border, to Cabo San Lucas, at the southern tip of Baja California. The author explains she had been a motorcycle enthusiast since childhood, her father having had a prize motorcycle on which he worked regularly. Since her love interest at the time was participating in the race she felt the need to do so as well. Kushner describes the ordeal in excruciating detail, recounting a crash caused by another racer, having her wrecked bike hauled away by pirates from whom she had to buy it back, and losing all of her money and identification because of the incompetence of the crew on the rescue truck.

Her taste for adventure shows up in other essays as well. In one piece she describes visiting a community organizer in the Palestinian refugee camp in Jerusalem. In another, she describes buying a 1963 Chevrolet Impala near Asheville, North Carolina and how it broke down in Iowa as she drove it back to California. (I am not a car and motorcycle buff like Kushner, but I have to like her. She says that she still owns a 1964 Ford Galaxie that she bought years ago. My first car was also a sixties Ford Galaxie.)

Kushner’s quirkiness comes to her naturally. Her parents once converted an old school bus into a sort of makeshift motor home and drove it to Oregon one summer where her father was going to start a college teaching job in the fall. She writes that her parents “looked like hippies, lived like hippies, and were very often mistaken for hippies” but, she says that “they didn’t really consider themselves hippies—which, to them, seemed a movement with its own conformities, and they were against conformities.”

In the final essay, Kushner describes her life as a young adult in San Francisco, where she waited tables and hung out with people who sold and consumed drugs.

At the end of that final essay she writes, “I’m talking about my own life. Which not only can’t matter to you, it might bore you.” I didn’t find Kushner’s stories the least bit boring. But I am slightly surprised, though happy, that she still lives to tell the tale.

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