The Hard Crowd by Rachel Kushner review – New Journalism given a new lease of life

The US novelist mixes grit with gloss in sharp examinations of artists and writers – and her wild youth

In 1973, Tom Wolfe edited a collection that cast a long shadow over American letters. The New Journalism gathered together the work of crack young writers such as Joan Didion, Hunter S Thompson and Truman Capote. It epitomised a style of reportage that drew the writer into the frame, no longer neutral witness but active participant, a character as sharply dressed and developed as any of their subjects. As a gen-X teenager, I stole it from my father’s shelf and it helped feed a fantasy vision of what a writer should be: ironic, experienced, hard-boiled, and above all present at the scene, a mode encapsulated by the famous photograph of Didion lounging against a white Stingray, looking antsy.

The cover of Rachel Kushner’s new essay collection, The Hard Crowd, brought all these dreamy vistas back. Kushner is an American novelist, here snapped leaning, Didion-style, on the trunk of her Ford Galaxie 500 (black cherry, natch), dressed in a miniskirt and squinting quizzically into the sun. Kushner was there, whether there means wiping out in the Mexican desert at 130mph during a punishing long-distance motorcycle race, or serving beers alongside Keith Richards at a private party at the Fillmore East.

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