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Speedboat (NYRB Classics) Kindle Edition
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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.I can't imagine a lot of people outside of relatively sophisticated circles familiar with New York reading or getting much pleasure out of this book .Let's face it , it's really a narrow book .That is not a bad thing but it's a limiting thing.
There is an afterword by Guy Trebay that tries to do for the book what the evangelists of abstract expressionism tried to do for Pollock That is make it into a historical inevitability.The form of SPEEDBOAT is an expression of the zeitgeist.Hence , it is truer and better than other books of the time. Progressivist, dialectical nonsense !This book doesn't need to rest on that kind of silliness.Any writer worth a damn would be proud to produce a book this good and fresh .In that sense , she made it new.(although I don't want to get started on the fetishism of "newness").
It's easy to connect Adler's free-falling prose to the social malaise of America in the `70s, but it might be more helpful to point out that Speedboat's lack of narrative stability is a perfect analog for a new expansive social reality, a space and time that simply doesn't make sense in the old ways but which hasn't yet created its own stories. This is what the new world looked like to someone who had one foot in the old one: strange, barely intelligible, full of opportunities and disappointments, and finally, worth passing on to another generation. Acerbic and optimistic, Adler reminds us that new social contracts are not without unintended consequences and that constructing meaning remains the most revolutionary of all social endeavors: a time consuming process undertaken one day at a time, one person at a time, one word at a time.