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Speedboat by Renata Adler
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Speedboat (1976)

by Renata Adler

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English (13)  Dutch (3)  All languages (16)
Showing 1-5 of 13 (next | show all)
What a very interesting book.
  thishannah | Jul 17, 2018 |
Brilliant shards of prose poetry strung together into a magically cohesive whirligig of a novel. Breaks most of the novelistic rules beautifully. Plotless and digressive in the best way: in service to letting the reader experience the interior monologue and mythology of one brilliant, neurotic, hilarious, human woman in 1970s NYC. For fans of Woody's Annie Hall and Manhattan, Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, and West's Miss Lonelyhearts... but put through a blender and strained into a fine, smooth, strong spirit. ( )
1 vote Chamblyman | May 20, 2018 |
Brilliant shards of prose poetry strung together into a magically cohesive whirligig of a novel. Breaks most of the novelistic rules beautifully. Plotless and digressive in the best way: in service to letting the reader experience the interior monologue and mythology of one brilliant, neurotic, hilarious, human woman in 1970s NYC. For fans of Woody's Annie Hall and Manhattan, Joan Didion's Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's, and West's Miss Lonelyhearts... but put through a blender and strained into a fine, smooth, strong spirit. ( )
  Chamblyman | May 19, 2018 |
... Alice opened the refrigerator door and there, looking alert and almost confiding, was, from her last hunt, the head of a decapitated fox .
The child of nature, with a sunburned stomach and dirt on its wrists, had followed the wrong fur sleeve at the supermarket. He was now quite lost. He began to sob, wetly, hysterically — not like a scared, lost child but in the manner of a tyrannical, mean, accusatory brat. “You’re not my mother,” he began to shout, a natural informer, at the pale, wrong lady in the near fur coat, and then, “She’s not my mother,” when he had gathered a sympathetic little crowd. “Lady, are you this kid’s mother?” the supermarket manager asked the lady. She said she wasn’t. He said, “Well, then why don’t you leave him alone?” When Sally, one of our legal reporters, went to the hospital for a hysterectomy, we visited her by turns. Carl was there on the second afternoon. When the nurse asked him to leave the room for a moment, he naturally left. “Now, Mother, here we are,” the nurse said. She brought somebody’s baby in. Sally, who does have two children, was confused. She said, “ Wait, just a minute.” The nurse cooed. Sally pointed out that the baby wasn’t hers. “Now, Mother,” the nurse said, “in large hospitals we often think that. But baby knows. Baby has a wristlet.” Then she looked at the wristlet, said “Oh, now,” one last time, and, holding the baby, walked out.
“Harry,” the blonde said, waving her drink and putting out her cigarette, “do you realize you have made yourself into a person that one has to lie to?”
“Janine,” he said, “you know I’m very tired of your aperçus?”


This extended excerpt gives you a sense of what Speedboat is like -- fractured, ironic, aphoristic, two barely-related anecdotes related in brisk detail in a single not-too-long paragraph. No single episode outstays its welcome -- it's a miracle of discipline that way -- but no real theme or deeper analysis arises either, it's like a series of Vines of the 1970s. The fracturing and high information content combined with a lightness of delivery reminded me strongly of the more recent Dept. of Speculation, but Speedboat has ambitions that are both broader -- to create a mosaic of the lives of an entire sector of New York at that time -- and more distant, in that it has no real interest in the inner emotional life of its narrator-observer, Jen Fain. It resolutely steers away from Issues, too -- there's no sexual harassment, barely any sex at all; little crime, except for the homeless man in the lobby, the stolen newspapers, and the occasionally-referred-to murdered landlord; and little acknowledgement of race. (You'd think that sexual harassment would fit right in in a novel like this, especially if it gave the narrator a chance to comment about how tedious it gets, and it doesn't seem like something the author would shy away from on grounds of taste, so I assume it, like other unpleasant experiences, was omitted to make a point about how fundamentally untouched the characters' lives are).

So it's a book that does one kind of thing and does it extremely well. The writer's obvious talent makes me wish that she'd tried to make it bigger -- to develop themes, to truly move the reader -- but it's original and enjoyable, and some of its observations seem very contemporary.

The person who invented this new form for us is on antidepressants now. He lives in Illinois. He says there are people in southern Illinois who have not yet been covered by the press.

It was hard to remember yesterday’s polemic, to determine whether today’s rebuttal was, in fact, an answer to it. Recalling arguments in order genuinely to refute them was an unrewarding exercise.

(This was one of the books I read because of https://www.buzzfeed.com/danieldalton/short-reads and https://www.gq.com/story/22-short-novels-you-can-finish-on-your-next-flight -- good hit rate so far)
( )
1 vote WilliamWhyte | May 15, 2018 |
Observational and uncommitted, the sometimes life of a journalist, Jen, who doesn’t like to ask questions forms the backdrop of this novel of — I was going to say “ideas” but I think “impressions” is closer. We glimpse life in school, life in college, life in grad school, life travelling in Europe, life at parties, life in politics, life especially in New York, but also life in the hinterlands, and yet it’s hard to put your finger on anything that has been said. Wry philosophical pronouncements compete with banal domestic itineraries. Nothing too much is made of anything, yet everything seems suspiciously portentous. And insistently but slyly funny.

Speedboat is a difficult novel to summarize, and a difficult novel to assess. Perhaps that is because it undercuts so much of what typically constitutes a novel in terms of plot, action, character development, or mise en scène. But if you set aside your expectations for these and just go along for the ride, you’ll find that Speedboat gets you there and back again; and wasn’t it the ride that was the important thing in any case? Adler’s writing is smart and twisting and so oblique that a left turn looks like a straight line. But I enjoyed it. And I’d like to read more by her. Which is about as good a compliment, I suspect, as any writer can hope for.

Recommended. ( )
2 vote RandyMetcalfe | Dec 2, 2016 |
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» Add other authors (4 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Renata Adlerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Trebay, GuyAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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A hideous family pledged itself to margarine.
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Book description
read the first chapter really got the cool thing but could make almost no sense of most of the things she might or might not refer to nor what the point of any of the story fragments she wrote is
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"It has been more than thirty-five years since Renata Adler's Speedboat, Winner of the Ernest Hemingway Award for Best First Novel, charged through the literary establishment, blasting genre walls and pointing the way for a newly liberated way of writing. This unclassifiable work is simultaneously novel, memoir, commonplace book, confession, and critique. It is the story of every man and woman cursed with too much consciousness and too little comprehension, and it is the story of Jen Fein, a journalist negotiating the fraught landscape of contemporary urban America. Her voice is searching, cuttingly perceptive, and darkly funny as she breaks narrative convention to send dispatches back from the world as she finds it"--

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2 editions of this book were published by NYRB Classics.

Editions: 1590176138, 1590176332

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