Speedboat is a tough book to write about. It’s been written about quite a bit of late -the recent attention drawn by the novel, long out of print, making it back into publication and back on the reading lists of many lit classes. It’s a very 70s novel, very much set in the contemporary world of its writing, but, in the manner of all good books that emphasize the times in which they are written, Adler writes at a bit of a remove from her own time, an observer just distant enough from her contemporary reality to make the thing hold up exceptionally well.
Speedboat is fragmentary and highly experimental, especially for its day, but remains very much a unified novel. It’s preoccupied with the issues that have come to define our conception of the intellectual culture of the 70’s -the remove from and the discomfort with the perceived failures of the 60s, the sense of aimlessness, the lack of identity. These themes would be far less interesting and compelling (except of course as a cultural time capsule) were it not for the powerful use of an arresting form and the unmistakable sense of craft that Adler’s prose radiates. This is a well worked-over novel.
And, in spite of that intractable Marxist chip on my shoulder, I’m not going to fault this book for its preoccupation with high society, wealth, connections, and culture. These things are obsessed over in Speedboat, but they’re also put on blast. Adler displays none of the frustrating toady-ness that has fueled my frustrations with other authors whose “critiques” of the elite were obscured by their simpering aspirations. Speedboat’s distance from its time and culture might be read by less charitable readers as an affected nonchalance, a need to be cool and above it all, but it’s essential. Without it, Adler’s narrator would be far too close to what is being described, and this project would be a hell of a lot less interesting.
Recommendation: Give it a read, unless you like your novels especially traditional.