PITCH DARK by Renata Adler


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In Speedboat (1976) critic/journalist Adler unabashedly offered up vignettes and musings from her world (New York, intellectual, literary), called it a novel, and provided a good deal of mordant wit, edgy atmosphere, and gossipy fascination. Here, with greater novelistic ambition, the effect is more uneven--as narrator Kate Ennis, a no less transparent alter ego, broods on her affair with a married man. . . while flashbacks and flashforwards create a dense, only fitfully absorbing mosaic of anecdote, essay, and existentialist twitching. ""Was there something I did, you think, or might have done, I ask you that, some thing I did not do, and might have done, that would have kept you with me yet a while?"" So wonders Kate, thinking of her longtime lover Jake, who seems ever-resistant to her pressure for a more full-time relationship. And these ironic/self-pitying queries repeat and repeat (with irritating rather than resonant results), framing Kate's aphoristic chunks of thought on love, her house in a ""reactionary"" small town, newspapers, handguns, football, lawyers, Freudians, current events. There is, however, a fairly firm narrative construct at work--as Kate, in apparent flight from a dead-end, about-to-unravel situation, travels. Most compactly (material for a satisfying short story), she goes to Ireland to stay in the house of an ambassador-friend, only to find, from the start, that ""there persists my own inexplicable impression that there has been something quite wrong in the course of the events"": a minor traffic accident becomes a source of criminal-like panic (this is the ""age of crime,"" we're told repeatedly); supposedly friendly servants seem threatening; and a strong strain of grim amusement keeps the whole nightmare this side of stagey Kafka-esquerie. Along the way, too, there are old and new acquaintances, some of whom test Kate's capacity for friendship, for being a ""citizen of my time."" (She speaks up against anti-Semitic pseudo-journalism.) But, though many of those awesome, idea-packed Adler sentences and paragraphs do surface here, much of the prose slips into pseudo-poetry, mannerism, sentimentality, in wry disguise; many of the fragments seem extraneous--including some ugly roman à clef snippets. And the result, with Kate's awfully clichÉd mooning-about at the center, is an erratic, artsy potpourri--by turns involving, off-putting, dazzling, and merely pretentious.

Pub Date: Dec. 15th, 1983
Publisher: Knopf