Adler, Renata. Speedboat. New York: New York Review Books, 2013.
This novel blows me away. I stole a copy from a rental apartment in Venice last month, trading one of the books I brought from home (which I have tried, unsuccessfully, several times to read); I stole it feeling justified, not short-changing Italy on English books.
How had I not heard of Renata Adler?
Speedboat is knit from fragments, snapshots. They read like postage-stamp-sized essays. And the accumulation of these bits make up an incredibly compelling voice. To my ear, Adler’s prose is no less perfect than Joan Didion’s.
Here are two gems: little windows, little story starts. I could have plucked any paragraph from this book and it would have tasted as sweet, but it was delicious to type up these passages.
From p. 144:
“The clerk of the morgue of this paper is an irascible man. Reporters are always taking his files away, forgetting to sign for them, keeping them, losing them, throwing them away. Over the years, it has made the clerk ill. I signed for a file, took the folder to my desk, and then took it home. Everybody does it. It is against the rules. After four days, I brought the folder back. The clerk of the morgue was incensed. What, he demanded to know, if the man whose file it was had died in those four days; what, in the absence of the file, would the obituary have been constructed from—had I considered that at all? Well, I said, since I had signed for the file, if the man whose file it was had died, somebody could have called me up. I would have brought the folder back. True, the clerk said, but there were questions of another sort. What if, in those four days, a new fact about the man had come to light, a fact that ought quite surely to be added to the file; what, in the absence of the file, was there to add the fact to, what rubric, category, or place was there to put the new fact in—had I considered that at all, had I given it one moment’s thought? I said I had not. The clerk, becoming pale with rage, said he might have to raise the matter with management. People seem to be unhappy in so many different ways. I’ve always liked the wrathful keepers of the files.”
From p. 168:
“When Dan rode his bicycle over a cliff, we all behaved in characteristic ways. We were in Central Park. There was intense competition for calm, for sane instructions. Cover him, take his pulse, call a doctor, get an ambulance, stand back, raise his head, don’t move him, leave him room and air. He had been riding his bicycle at full speed, with a kind of Western-yodel whoop, over the cliff edge. It had been a dare. He was out quite cold. In the rush to help, Jeff and Lee—who are the nicest of us, really—quietly returned all the bicycles, including Dan’s, with its bent frame and mangled wheel, to the store from which we had rented them for the day. Two uniformed men appeared. They told Dan to get up. He opened his eyes. “Lie still,” we said. “Wait for the ambulance.” One of the uniformed men said, “He, man, we are the ambulance.” Dan blinked. He tottered up a steep hill to their car. He sat on a stretcher. They let him sit up, occasionally bumping his head lightly against the root, all the way to the hospital. He mumbled apologies. Ralph’s girl, in a helpless daze of solicitude, held Dan’s shoe in her lap. Situps aside, it is possible that we are really a group of invalids, hypochondriacs, and misfits. I don’t know. Even our people who stay fit with yoga seem to be, more than others, subject to the flu.”