You should be reading Renata Adler because everyone else is.
Apparently, we’re in the mood for resuscitating lost-to-recent-time female minds. A couple years back, it was film critic Pauline Kael. Now, one of Kael’s greatest critics, Renata Adler, is having her moment. A seventies star author and journalist (think William Shawn’s New Yorker, Janet Malcolm, Joan Didion, Kael), Renata Adler fell out of literary favor after she went brilliantly queen bitch on the media scene in the eighties and nineties, taking down, in vicious prose, seemingly everyone and every institution she brushed up against, from Kael and The New York Times to Adam Gopnik, Tina Brown, Vanity Fair, and Bob Woodward.
Now, with her celebrated seventies novels Speedboat and Pitch Dark finally back in print, thanks to the New York Review of Books, Alder’s long braid and acerbic words are part of the public imagination again: on the cover Bookforum, welcomed back by The New Yorker, and applauded by Katie Roiphe. She’s even making public appearances.
For months, people have been coming into the independent bookstore where I work and asking after Adler’s books. For months, I’ve had to turn them away with a promise to call as soon as March 19th, the NYRB pub date, came around. Well, it’s here and the geist is zeit. Everywhere I’ve travelled this past week, I’ve caught sight of Speedboat’s new, colorful cover—dog-eared in a clever girl’s purse in London, pressed to the nose of bespectacled young lad on the street car in Toronto, flying off our store’s shelves in Manhattan.
The attention is deserved. Speedboat is—tied perhaps with the Bernadette Corporation’s Reena Spaulings—the novel that best captures the roaming, sometimes-schizophrenic experience of living in New York. Pitch Dark, Chris Kraus recently told me, is even better.
It has been suggested that the time is now for Renata Adler due to the popularity of such fucked-up female subjectivities as Hannah Horvath and the role model of Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be. Smart Woman Adrift stories are hot right now. Well, I reply, it’s about fucking time. You should be reading Renata Adler because everyone else is—no irony there, participating is a literary zeitgeist is fun. But you should also be reading Renata Adler because her books are uncanny and stunning, unlike other novels, and so like life.