Saturday, June 28, 2014

Review: Speedboat by Renata Adler

First published:- 1976

Republished:- March 19th, 2013 by NYRB

Read in:- June, 2014

Star rating:-

Much of life does not make a lot of sense in the moment it is occuring. Only in posterity, when we dwell on memories, are we able to see past happenings in a clearer light. The passage of time helps us tame the inveterate romanticism of first perceptions and lets the realization sink in that some things are just what they appear to be and further efforts at figuring out some deeper significance are going to remain futile forevermore. Scattered fragments of time spent with people in places glow like fireflies in the dark but the dots never connect. No hidden, congruous patterns emerge. Some moments stand out in the multitude and bring us pleasure, sorrow, mirth, intrigue or some other keenly felt emotion while the rest merge with the void and perish.

Renata Adler's writing is thoroughly deserving of all the accolades because of her earnestness at remaining faithful to dull realities, everyday mundane things that we eagerly discard in favor of the exaggerated glamour of tragedy or romance. Her fictional love interests are ordinary and unexciting, her protagonist is just another city girl in the endless sea of anonymous faces, and her sardonically narrated observations utterly devoid of the artistic grandeur found in the trademark melancholic novel on urban alienation. 

Just as the traditional narrative of the novel is subverted without any pretensions in 'Speedboat' which, true to life, refuses to stitch together ephemeral moments into a much bigger collage of the human consciousness, the short story format is also ingeniously shunned. Adler's aphoristic 'stories' (for lack of a more apposite term) are just what they are - anecdotes on events and conversations recounted somewhat dispassionately and left unexplained, minor departures from the cyclical nature of routine-bound life laid bare for the readers to dissect and derive their quota of 'reading between the lines'from. The random handsome, young man encountered on the subway on your way to work who monopolized your attention for the length of the journey, the quarter found in the backseat of a cab that you surreptitiously picked up after wrestling with your conscience for a while, the ailing woman on the verge of certain death in the hospital ward who said she was doing fine on being asked how she was - these are but some of the many discrete snapshots of our collective lackadaisical existence in the backdrop of any nameless metropolitan city of the world and not just Adler's New York.

"The idea of hostages is very deep. Becoming pregnant is taking a hostage-as is running a pawnshop, being a bank, receiving a letter, taking a photograph, or listening to a confidence. Every love story, every commercial trade, every secret, every matter in which trust is involved, is a gentle transaction of hostages. Everything is, to a degree, in the custody of every other thing."

Her depiction of idiosyncratic urban life as she knew it is one of the most life-like I have ever come across and, possibly, ever will.



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