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by Renata Adler, afterword by Guy Trebay

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Winner of the 1977 PEN/Hemingway Award for Debut Novel

When Speedboat burst on the scene in the late ’70s it was like nothing readers had encountered before. It seemed to disregard the rules of the novel, but it wore its unconventionality with ease. Reading it was a pleasure of a new, unexpected kind. Above all, there was its voice, ambivalent, curious, wry, the voice of Jen Fain, a journalist negotiating the fraught landscape of contemporary urban America. Party guests, taxi drivers, brownstone dwellers, professors, journalists, presidents, and debutantes fill these dispatches from the world as Jen finds it.

A touchstone over the years for writers as different as David Foster Wallace and Elizabeth Hardwick, Speedboat returns to enthrall a new generation of Renata Adler, afterword by Guy Trebay

Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781590176139
Pages: 192
Publication Date:


[Speedboat] feels like a book that has somehow always existed, just as much as one that maybe never has. The feel of a total accident, and yet one that could only have happened in exactly the way it did. . . . The sentences are thrilling to the point of overload—delirious, worldly, probing, wry. And yet the book’s most arresting feat is its ability to inhabit a moment so clearly, so lucidly, that nothing outside of its momentary aperture seems of any importance.
—David Byron Queen, The Review of unContemporary Fiction

She is one of the most brilliant—that is, vivid, intense, astute, and penetrating—essayists in contemporary letters, and most contrarian: much of what you think she will passionately undo. And she is a novelist whose voice, even decades after her books were written, seems new and original, and, if you are a writer, one you wish were your own.
—Michael Wolff, The Guardian

Ms. Adler's writing has turned out to be prescient and quietly influential, and her debut novel cast a long shadow on what I consider to be the strongest works of fiction published this year. Speedboat does not prescribe to any novelistic convention—namely, plot (linear or not, it does not have one to speak of)—and yet it distills the novel to its most basic necessities. It is a series of disjointed paragraphs, each a kind of novel in itself, in which every sentence has the urgency of a mortal wound.
—Michael Miller, The New York Observer

...Renata Adler's ahead-of-its-time novel Speedboat has gone from cult favorite to undisputed classic.
The Fiction Advocate

This novel is a semi-plotless investigation of contemporary life, both actual and intellectual, in which every sentence gleams and winks and lifts boulders. It is vital and dazzling and will never, never go out of style.

Written before the ubiquity of writing workshops and the polished sameness that hovers over most of the polite novels published these days, these two books are triumphs now. They are evidence of what happens when messy life meets clean white page in exquisite prose and should be lingered over, not digested in gulps just to get to THE END.
A.V. Club

Told by Jen Fain, a journalist, Speedboat is a fragmentary and frequently hilarious novel about what it was to be an urban American in the 1970s. Here we have a narrator whose "I" looks out, not in. Fain describes her friends and work so keenly that at times she is almost effaced from her own narrative. In the space opened up by this near absence, Adler achieves a prose that, despite the odd bum note, sounds disaffected and despondent and charismatic all at once. 'There doesn't seem to be a spirit of the times,' says Fain. But in Adler we sense the very crystallisation of one.
The Irish Times

I think Speedboat will find a new generation of dazzled readers.
—Katie Roiphe, Slate

Speedboat is as vital a document of the last half of the American century as Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Right down to its final, just-right sentence, it's—well, it will literally knock your socks off.
—Michael Robbins, Chicago Tribune

Speedboat captivates by its jagged and frenetic changes of pitch and tone and voice. Adler confides, reflects, tells a story, aphorizes, undercuts the aphorism, then undercuts that. Ideas, experiences, and emotions are inseparable. I don't know what she'll say next. She tantalizes by being simultaneously daring and elusive.
—David Shields, Reality Hunger

Nobody writes better prose than Renata Adler.
—John Leonard, Vanity Fair

A brilliant series of glimpses into the special oddities and new terrors of contemporary life—abrupt, painful, and altogether splendid.
—Donald Barthelme

‘Tell all the truth but tell it slant—’ So says Emily Dickinson, and part of the joy to be found in Adler’s short, dense and intellectually vast text is the author’s investigation into those various slants, including how language changes your mind, and how your mind changes language. . . . [Speedboat is] a book filled with stories that stay and then slip into the next story, like steam running down glass.
—Hilton Als, Granta

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