Speedboat is not an experience for the faint of heart. Set in 1970s NYC as a fictional memoir, Renata Adler’s novel takes montage to a semantic extreme that somehow becomes indistinguishable from lived reality. Beyond the patchwork of short, barely connected episodes, Adler’s mastery of montage infuses every word until even the most obvious phrases become miracles of combination, revealing the wonder of language at the very moment that the sum of its parts creates a larger sense. Then again, maybe sense is too strong a word. Behind Adler’s technique lies an unsettling understanding of the world in which all meaning beyond episodic observation is denied and even the most rudimentary social narrative is rejected.
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.
(for my new roomie)