A question I’ve asked myself throughout the text– perhaps because of the setting of the book; perhaps because the narrator is female and seems very rebellious and somewhat masculine–is whether or not I would consider Reno to be a feminist. Through our class discussions, pulling apart some of the themes of Kushner’s book, I think I’ve finally unraveled Reno’s stance on equality and women’s rights, at least in general terms (of course, Reno never goes into specifics about these issues–which were at the forefront of the culture at this time period!–but I’ll go with what she gives us).
Keeping the themes of being trapped, caged, or stuck in mind, we can justify the theory that Reno’s obsession with speed, leaving no trace (not a bit of her is left behind!), and moving very quickly through towns and places, is her way of symbolically fighting the problem that women themselves are trapped in time, while men control their futures and plan to move forward. According to Reno’s suggestions, men have the agency to control their lives and timing of events, while women rely on luck, being unable to afford the logic men utilize. Reno’s racing–and her motorcycle–become symbolic attempts on Reno’s part to break free from her temporal cage.
But her motorcycle is a Valera; does this complicate the metaphor? I think it fits in perfectly, because Reno first meets Valera and is drawn to him, feels he understands her speed and thinking. Motorcycle and man (are supposed to) free her from her trappings in time. But Reno crashes the motorcycle, and Sandro cheats on her–a sudden break from her connection to the two.
I think that Reno’s flight from the factory and into a new world of chaos because of Sandro’s indiscretion is a demonstration of two things. It is an emotional and salient moment in the book, and gives us the sense that Reno is really breaking free from her former behavior and choices. It also demonstrates that Reno wants to make a clean break from Sandro–leave no trace.
Despite the fact that Sandro was the cause of Reno’s bold exit, it is still a bold exit. She is taking a risk, but on her own terms–no Valera bike to aid her. I take her break from Sandro to be a new attempt to break free from her cage, but this time, the risk is physical, emotional, and constant. Maybe Kushner is suggesting that what Reno is really trying to do is not make art, but gain some agency, despite risks, and become someone who controls her own time and space. Taken this way, the book becomes largely symbolically feminist; a story about feminine struggle in a male-dominated culture.