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Speedboat Paperback – February, 1988

3.9 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Paperback, February, 1988
$45.25 $3.98
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

Adler's novels concede the necessity of making fiction quicker, more terse, descriptively less elaborate than the traditional thing called a novel, not so much in deference to shrunken attention spans, but as the most plausible way of rendering the distracted, fragmentary quality of contemporary consciousness [...] They describe what it's like to be living now, during this span of time, in our particular country and our particular world. This is what the best novels have always done, and with any luck will continue to do. —Gary Indiana --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

Renata Adler's first novel, 'Speedboat" ... is that kind of book. The kind you buy multiple copies of to push on friends, the kind you dog-ear and mark up until it could line a hamster cage. A talisman, a weapon, a touchstone. ... I don't press "The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge" or "Beyond Good and Evil" on people anymore. But that's the kind of book that kind of book is, burning in your thoughts, a grass fire, consuming the air. ... Right down to its final, just-right sentence, it's -- well, it will literally knock your socks off. Read it. - Michael Robbins, Chicago Tribune

 Aftter years of being passed along to new readers like samizdat pamphlet. ... These are not works of realism--they have a dreamlike quality-- but they contain as much reality as a Balzac novel does. It's just that their reality is incantatory, sparse, periodically blazing. ...  one of the more penetrating and oddly hypnotizing books I know; reading it is like being in a snowstorm. ...If all you get from "Speedboat" and "Pitch Dark" is a shudder of pleasure and self-recognition, you are probably not reading deeply enough. Welcome Back, Renata Adler. - MeghanO'Rourke, The New Yorker

I Was In Love and Then I wasn't, and sometime during the drifting gray interim I was told by a bookseller friend to read Renata Adler's 1976 debut, Speedboat, a novel that had long been out of print but was absolutely, he insisted, worth the trouble of the search. ... My friend was correct, as booksellers usually are; it was as though the novel had outstretched arms and I fell in - Anna
Weiner, Paris Review

No Longer Gone: After 20 years, Renata Adler Is Back In Print ... Adler is--to tweak a line she used in a notoriously negative review of Pauline Kael's criticism--page by page, line by line, and without interruption, brilliant - Miranda Popkey, The New York Observer

Speedboat is dazzling ...line for line and sentence for sentence, it seems to me thrilling. ... observant, funny, urbane. ...  What is it is a war novel. ... after all -  a narrative like any other. It will or it won't "come out." The way it eventually does, in a chaos of spies and hostages, is satisfying, even if it isnt optimistic. ... - Matthew Spektor, The Believer.

“Ms. Adler’s writing has turned out to be prescient and quietly influential, and her debut novel cast a long shadow on what I consider to be the strongest works of fiction published this year. Speedboat does not prescribe to any novelistic convention—namely, plot (linear or not, it does not have one to speak of)—and yet it distills the novel to its most basic necessities. It is a series of disjointed paragraphs, each a kind of novel in itself, in which every sentence has the urgency of a mortal wound.” —Michael Miller, The New York Observer

“…Renata Adler’s ahead-of-its-time novel Speedboat has gone from cult favorite to undisputed classic.” —The Fiction Advocate

“This novel is a semi-plotless investigation of contemporary life, both actual and intellectual, in which every sentence gleams and winks and lifts boulders. It is vital and dazzling and will never, never go out of style.” —Flavorwire

“Written before the ubiquity of writing workshops and the polished sameness that hovers over most of the polite novels published these days, these two books are triumphs now. They are evidence of what happens when messy life meets clean white page in exquisite prose and should be lingered over, not digested in gulps just to get to THE END.” —A.V. Club

“Told by Jen Fain, 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. Fain 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 Fain. But in Adler we sense the very crystallisation of one.” —The Irish Times

"She is one of the most brilliant—that is, vivid, intense, astute, and penetrating—essayists in contemporary letters, and most contrarian: much of what you think she will passionately undo. And she is a novelist whose voice, even decades after her books were written, seems new and original, and, if you are a writer, one you wish were your own." —Michael Wolff, The Guardian

“I think Speedboat will find a new generation of dazzled readers.” —Katie Roiphe, Slate

"Speedboat is as vital a document of the last half of the American century as Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Right down to its final, just-right sentence, it's—well, it will literally knock your socks off." —Michael Robbins, Chicago Tribune

Speedboat captivates by its jagged and frenetic changes of pitch and tone and voice. Adler confides, reflects, tells a story, aphorizes, undercuts the aphorism, then undercuts that. Ideas, experiences, and emotions are inseparable. I don’t know what she’ll say next. She tantalizes by being simultaneously daring and elusive.” —David Shields, Reality Hunger

“Nobody writes better prose than Renata Adler.” —John Leonard, Vanity Fair

“A brilliant series of glimpses into the special oddities and new terrors of contemporary life—abrupt, painful, and altogether splendid.” —Donald Barthelme

“When Speedboat burst on the scene in the late ‘70s it was like nothing readers had encountered before. It seemed to disregard the rules of the novel, but it wore its unconventionality with ease. Reading it was a pleasure of a new, unexpected kind. Above all, there was its voice, ambivalent, curious, wry…. A touchstone over the years for writers.” —Bookforum for The Oyster Review --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Harpercollins (February 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060971436
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060971434
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 5.3 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (37 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,052,312 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

January 2016 Edition: "The White Review" To Siegfried Unseld, From Wolfgang Hildesheimer

Speedboat is an eminently American book, and sometimes I lack the key to the metaphors. But its structure allows you to open it up at random and read it, without being aware of the context, like a breviary.

Now you ask me why the book is so good. I may assume that you have read it, so that my answer can only be seen as a recommendation to those who have not read it. To sum up this answer in a sentence, I would say: here journalism has grown far beyond its own boundaries to create a masterpiece.

That has, to my knowledge, never happened before, not least because journalism, however outstanding it may sometimes be, must be measured by its currency value, and thus has to respond to a precise theme. But I have never read a report whose theme, as here, is nothing less than our life.

In general, it does not take any particular analytical perspicacity to unmask our life as an absurd and potentially catastrophic sequence of events, deliberate or otherwise, an implementation of something that is essentially impossible. But this book does more than that, it deals with the vanity of the demand to be able to lead a meaningful existence as a sophisticated and sensitive intellectual with precise standards and moral commitment, and the ability to depict the melancholy of this vanity with such a truly sublime, almost floating lightness clearly remained Renata Adler's intention. At the same time, everything that is said here, is only recorded in the margin, so to speak, as a provisional report, a flashback or a digression.

But it is in the formally perfect whole that arises out of these apparently sober, sometimes poker-faced, but in fact brilliantly trenchant - and never excessively trenchant - notes that great art lies. And thus the book justifies its subtitle of 'novel'. A novel 'as if written by life', but truly, not everyone's life, not a novelist's life, but the life of a highly intelligent and spirited individual, with a many-layered and seismographic consciousness and an irresistible sense of comedy, beneath which, by way of counterpoint, and only in delicate hints, deep grief shines forth over the fact that everything is as it is and not as it should be. The book is on my bedside table.

With best wishes,
Yours, Wolfgang.

Best known for his bestselling biography of Mozart, Wolfgang Hildesheimer was a polymathic novelist, translator, painter and dramatist. A member of the influential literary association Gruppe 47, with Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll and Paul Celan, he was extremely well-connected in the world of German publishing and an astute observer of the literary scene. As this 1980 letter to his publisher Siegfried Unseld, the formidable director of Suhrkamp Verlag, reveals, he was one of the first to notice the importance of Renata Adler's experimental novel SPEEDBOAT.
--S. W.*

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This strangely wonderful novel isnt for every reader as it has no real plot, no conventionally constructed characters, nothing but an oddly appealing first-person narrator with a quirky sensibility & an intelligent take on a broad range of things. It could be accused of being a messy ragbag of a book, only it's written in punchy short bursts of spare prose, clean & concise even when most off-the-wall, & weighing in at 170 pages, this is a light-heavyweight contender. It was written in the '70s, but it feels contemporary as if it were fresh out of the box. Any of you serious readers of modern prose fiction ought to check this out. Renata Adler is a whip-smart unconventional prose artist.
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Format: Paperback
"Nobody died that year. Nobody prospered. There were no births or marriages. Seventeen reverent satires were written - disrupting a cliche' and, presumably, creating a genre." OK, that's what it's like. The narrator is a young, intensely observant, funny, rather neurotic New York woman. I've greatly enjoyed reading it three times. I recommended it once; they hated it.
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Format: Paperback
Why are so many astonishing novels from the 1970s out of print? (James McCourt's Mawrdrew Czgzowchwz is another.) Adler's cunning collage of seemingly unrelated vignettes -- tart apercus distilled through a youngish woman's relentless intelligence -- contrives to sum up a particular kind of brittle, urban intellectual existence. "Speedboat" is a challenge, but each piece of the puzzle is short and brilliant enough to keep you mowing through. This is the best, and most original, book Adler ever wrote (before law school tamed her imagination and killed her sense of humor).
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Format: Paperback
WELCOME BACK, RENATA ADLER
POSTED BY MEGHAN O'ROURKE---I thought this described (on the New Yorker blog ) the book beautifully

I first read Renata Adler's then out-of-print novel "Speedboat" in my mid-twenties, curled on an IKEA chair in my room in a shabby rental in Brooklyn, devouring the book's jagged, cool, aphoristic prose and its elliptical and mordant portrait of a certain kind of worldly adult life that I had just begun to live but hardly understood--certainly, not the way the narrator of the novel did.

What is amazing about Adler's novels is the way that they integrate cultural analysis with telling details of social nuance. "Speedboat," like "Pitch Dark," has just been republished by NYRB Classics, after years of being passed along to new readers like samizdat pamphlets. Both novels have more in common with the New Novel than with the thrillers that Adler has said she loves. Both are written in a "discontinuous first-person" (in Muriel Spark's phrase) that cumulatively conveys what it is like to be a female intellectual in the world of publishing in the nineteen-seventies. These are not works of realism--they have a dreamlike quality-- but they contain as much reality as a Balzac novel does. It's just that their reality is incantatory, sparse, periodically blazing, and not a little self-consciously neurotic.

In the rhythm of their sentences, in their singular tone, in their resonances, echoes, and repetitions, "Speedboat" and "Pitch Dark" convey something of what it is like to be alive in any time--but specifically, they convey the psychic climate of the seventies. These novels are records of a penetrating intelligence, a skeptical intelligence (but, thank God, not a reflexively skeptical intelligence).
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I've heard about Speedboat ever since it first came out, but for some reason never picked it up. Thank you, NYRB for reissuing it! Not only did it meet but it exceeded all expectations. Perhaps it's "easier" to read now than in the '70s because it helped set a style that has been much followed.
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Format: Paperback
this book is like what I wanted Joan Didion's White Album to be (and almost was but not quite) - a period of time distilled into super-interesting observations and anecdotes, artistically arranged - as startling as poetry but with the addictive power of prose - i couldn't put it down!
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Format: Paperback
There are some beautiful vignettes in here (my favorite: a short one about a boy's haircut) but at the end of this book I don't feel like it's that impressive of a feat. I wouldn't quite label this as "kitschy" but it does seem to be intentionally appealing to a subset of urban readers/this is goodreads so I'm just going to say it: "hipsters."

I'll also say that there are some dynamite passages/sentences in here. Renata Adler is a good writer.
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SPEEDBOAT is a very good book.It's usually classified as a novel.I'd question that categorization.The book has no plot and only in a superficial sense does it have characters.It's a collage of literary fragments, brilliantly organized but not following any discernible pattern or progression.All the fragments ostensibly come from or concern the narrator , someone apparently named Jen Fain.Jen strikes me as an artifice.These are the ramblings of Renata Adler.I suspect she found she really couldn't write a novel and came up with this instead.It works because page after page it's filled with stunning anecdotes,insights and occasional bursts of humor.

One thought that recurred to me while reading this book is, who does a writer write for?The 'artsy" answer is , for himself.True and good , up to a point but no one other than secret diarists imagine that they have no audience(even the secret diarist fantasizes about being read).SPEEDBOAT was not written for the intelligent, common reader , whoever she may be.It's very New Yorky.Adler uses names and neighborhoods as signifiers.You have references to Elaines,Trader Vics,Bendel,Saks and the Village.These names have meanings that you know or don't know.Her people are almost all highly educated cosmopolitans who when not in New York flit from Angkor Wat to Mediterranean islands.This is a way of writing that is in sharp contrast to any number of traditional novelists.For some reason,I kept thinking of Thomas Hardy.Hardy's most famous novels have a definite geographic setting, the mythical Wessex( a fictionalized version of The Dorset of his youth that expanded with time).I don't think Hardy expected Wessexer's to read his books or thought you needed to know much about Wessex to understand them.This is not the case with Adler.
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