Speedboat, By Renata Adler
There is nothing of the anxiety of influence around Speedboat (1976). It is a novel of its peers. In Renata Adler’s sentences, for example, we detect the cadence of Joan Didion’s journalism, which within a few years would mimic the structure of Adler’s fiction. It is only appropriate that Speedboat should partake in such a tangled literary lineage: this is, after all, a narrative that turns back on itself just as comfortably. Told by Jen Frain, a journalist, Speedboat is a fragmentary and frequently hilarious novel about what it was to be an urban American in the 1970s. Here we have a narrator whose “I” looks out, not in. Frain describes her friends and work so keenly that at times she is almost effaced from her own narrative. In the space opened up by this near absence, Adler achieves a prose that, despite the odd bum note, sounds disaffected and despondent and charismatic all at once. “There doesn’t seem to be a spirit of the times,” says Frain. But in Adler we sense the very crystallisation of one.