renata adler

Renata Adler! The Center for Fiction! Books…Books!

adlerBack in January, I declared, “You must read this book now. Right now. This very second.” Renata Adler’s book, Speedboat, is one of my favorite books of all time. I always nominate this book when people ask for recommendations, but then it would pain me to add but it’s out of print! But not anymore. Grab up a beautiful copy from the New York Review of Books where they are having a special discount of 20% off right now.

But anyhoo, I was one of the lucky souls that was able to grab a seat at the incredibly packed Center for Fiction last night. Adler was there to read a few excerpts from Speedboat and Pitch Dark, followed by an interesting Q&A where she discussed writing the two novels, her time as a staff writer at the New Yorker, amongst other topics. Adler was quick and witty and the entire audience loved her. I even brought a couple of lovely friends who were visiting from Germany who had heard all of my fellow New York writerly friends and me kvell about Renata Adler and Speedboat. Beforehand, we all bought books. I have never read Pitch Dark and I can’t wait to get started. My German friends are so excited to begin Speedboat.

After the talk, Renata Adler signed everyone’s books. I told her about the class I taught a few years ago to undergrads and how much they enjoyed her book. She wanted to know what other books were taught in the class, too. When I told her Philip K. Dick, she replied back saying she really needed to read him.

If you were unable to attend yesterday evening’s event, the Center for Fiction posted a recent interview they conducted with her. A favorite snippet is when she talks about the process of writing her novels (which are not in any traditional structure),

Oh, I always shuffle. And there, the computer is just a disaster because the only thing I’ve ever been compulsively neat about is typing. I type with two fingers, and so I would always make a mistake near the end of the page, and since White Out is no use, I would throw the thing out and start again at the beginning. Then along came the computer and I thought it was going to help because you can move everything around all the time and you can change every sentence 50 different ways in seconds. But that’s exactly what I don’t want, because then what was doing? If the computer can shift everything in a split-second, then what am I doing here? That’s what I used to do so carefully. One of the things that’s almost comically a problem is AutoCorrect, and what AutoCorrect thinks I’m saying.

The Triumphant Return of Renata Adler’s Speedboat

speedboat You must read this book now. Right now. This very second (or on 19 March  when it is finally re-released).

I can offer no other reason for this book being out of print for so long than to say it has been one cruel cosmic joke. A couple of years ago, the National Book Critics Circle surveyed a group of authors and asked the question, which book would they like to see back in print? According to NBCC, many suggestions were offered but the resounding response was for Adler’s Speedboat. Board member, Mark Athitakis, described the book,

The narrator…appears to be coming apart, stalked by a sense of panic and a feeling that the world has become disordered. So the story feels like it’s come apart too—telephone conversations get tangled, the story leaps wildly from past to present, recollections of violence are muted while mundane party chatter becomes absurdly, wildly comic.

I once taught this to a small class of undergrads in the only class I have ever taught. I brought in a short excerpt for them to read. The class was titled, “The Unconventional,” and I hoped Speedboat would be an ideal example to show humor, plot construction, and character development. They sometimes were a quiet bunch but they adored this book and were let down when I told them that it was out of print (although, I’m sure it can be picked up from a used bookseller). It is a book that I constantly recommend and I am happy that the wonderful NYRB is putting this back into print.

Ed Park, the keeper of all books almost forgotten or underappreciated, once said of Speedboat,

[T]his is a book I’ve bought repeatedly and given away, in the hopes of expanding the cult.