A young artist struggling to find a voice in the New York scene unwittingly finds herself embroiled in unionist riots in Italy after taking up with the estranged son of a rubber magnate and motorcycle manufacturer. Reno, a naive young artist, moves from the city from which she gained her name to New York in the mid-1970s hoping to gain a foothold in the burgeoning leftist art community by creating art that depicts her favorite thing - velocity.
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Soon after moving to the city, Reno's loneliness brings her into contact with other drifters, dreamers and liars. A one night stand with Ronnie, a friend of a friend, only serves to send Reno further into the pits of despair until she meets Sandro Valera, the black sheep son of a wealthy Italian rubber and motorcycle empire and one of Ronnie's closest friends.
Sandro arranges for Reno to borrow a Valera Motorcycle prototype so that she can ride it on the famous Bonneville salt flats and attempt to capture the speed of the journey in photographs of her tire tracks in the surface. Being a somewhat amateur rider, Reno crashes the bike mid-course. Her injury means that she has to stay behind with the rest of the Valera team until their famous driver can attempt to break the land speed record. A strike at the Valera plant significantly slows down this process, but in the end, the record is broken and Reno is asked to give the vehicle a try so that they can also rack up a record for a female driver.
Back in New York, Sandro is less than thrilled with Reno's sudden notoreity, particularly as she has now been invited to Italy for a Valera promo tour. Try though he might to dissuade her from going, Ronnie eventually chides him until he agrees to go along with her to meet his factory CEO brother Roberto and the rest of his family in Italy.
Reno finds herself less than welcome by Sandro's mother and brother at their palatial estate while the family struggles with a major strike at their factory. She struggles to keep her feelings of inadequacy at bay as long as she can, but when she discovers Sandro in a lip lock with his sexy cousin, she escapes with the family's leftist gardener Gianni. Before she realizes what is happening, her connections to the Valera family are used by Gianni and his friends to perpetrate some of their politically controversial plans.
Alone once again after losing Gianni as he attempts to escape across the Italian border, Reno returns to New York where she finds some of her old friends have become unexpectedly successful in the art world. She is unable to bring herself to reconcile with Sandro, even after she learns about Roberto's kidnapping and murder by the Italian protestors, because she realizes that it is Ronnie she's always loved. Although Ronnie returns her feelings, the two part ways when he suggests that he can't be with someone who still does not know herself.
Best part of story, including ending:
The prose in the novel has moments of pure beauty. While the story often felt meandering, the language always sparkled.
Best scene in story:
Reno's motorcycle run at Bonneville early in the book was unexpected and exciting. The juxtaposition of the beautiful geographical description and the danger of the motorcycle's speed made for a unique scene and a compelling showcase for Reno's character.
Opinion about the main character:
Reno was a seeker who didn't know what she was looking for. Her passivity was frequently a deterrent in my ability to like her as a protagonist.