This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The tone in Renata Adler's novels is more or less that of Joan Didion, whose writing influenced a generation. It is the voice of a woman in emotional extremis, pondering whether to fold or stay at the table, generally making the same decision as one of Samuel Beckett's characters: "I can't go on. I'll go on."
Speedboat was published in the late 1970s and had everybody talking. Pitch Dark was published in 1983 and received less acclaim, although it's not markedly inferior to the earlier book; rather, the zeitgeist had moved on. Both novels are narrated by journalists who doubt their craft and just about everything else, and they take the razor to themselves with the same alacrity as they do to innocent bystanders.
The narrator in Pitch Dark is having an affair with a married man; the narrator of Speedboat just drifts, and the novel consists of her observations about the people and places she encounters. Both novels can certainly be said to have been influential David Foster Wallace loved Speedboat, although he replaced its concision with torrents of verbiage. I'd wager that the footnotes of any Wallace novel amount to more word volume than both of Adler's novels combined.
Both Speedboat and Pitch Dark have have been reissued by the New York Review of Books, and I'm glad of that. These are not warm and fuzzy novels; rather, they're astringent and somewhat exhausting like spending time with a brilliant neurotic. On the other hand, brilliant neurotics are never dull.