Cast in Doubt
Renata Adler's novels ruminate on the ephemera, awkward occurrences, and horrors of everyday life
Speedboat (Nyrb Classics)
by Renata Adler
$14.00 List Price
RENATA ADLER’S NEWLY REISSUED NOVELS, Speedboat (1976) and Pitch Dark (1983), consist of anecdotes, vignettes, jokes, aphorisms, epigrammatic asides, and longer passages of prose—eclectic inventories of consciousness. Their immediate effect is that of a flea market in Samarqand or Ouagadougou, where the items on display (vintage clothes, military decorations, photo albums, broken appliances) are fractionally different enough, in style and provenance, from their cousins at the local swap meet to look like artifacts of an alternate universe. Adler’s eye and ear for the peculiar are unmatched in American letters.
Adler herself is regarded as peculiar in literary circles; her reluctance to publish anything is almost as legendary as Fran Lebowitz’s writing block. At a more prolific time, Adler wrote often, mainly for the New Yorker, reporting with great perspicacity on civil rights marches in the South, the ’60s student movement, Biafra. For slightly over a year in the late ’60s, she was the daily film reviewer for the New York Times, a job no one else has filled quite as memorably since. (“Even if your idea of a good time,” began her first review, “is to watch a lot of middle-aged Germans, some of them very fat, all reddening, grimacing, perspiring, and falling over Elke Sommer, I think you ought to skip The Wicked Dreams of Paula Schultz.”) Since then, Adler’s work has appeared with diminishing frequency, though almost always with seismic reverberation.
Her 1980 review, in the New York Review of Books, of When the Lights Go Down, a collection of film reviews by Pauline Kael,