Renata Adler Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

That Renata Adler has been acclaimed both as a journalist and as a novelist would be less surprising were her novels at all realistic in technique. Yet while her novels are not journalistic, they are decidedly contemporary. Indeed, it is for her creation of a distinctly contemporary voice that Adler deserves the high praise she has received. Adler was born in Milan, Italy, on October 19, 1938, and was educated at Bryn Mawr College, the Sorbonne, and Harvard University. She later earned a law degree from Yale University as part of her research for her fifth book, Reckless Disregard, a work in which Adler’s own high standards led her to criticize the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and Time magazine for their “reckless disregard” of the truth in their reporting of General William Westmoreland’s alleged misconduct during the Vietnam War and Israeli defense minister Ariel Sharon’s part in the massacre of Palestinian civilians by Lebanese soldiers in 1983. Adler helped judge the National Book Awards in 1969, served on the editorial board of The American Scholar from 1968 to 1973, and was a member of the executive board of the International Association of Poets, Playwrights, Editors, Essayists, and Novelists (PEN) from 1964 to 1970.{$S[A]Daniels, Brett;Adler, Renata}

As one who came of age during the Eisenhower years, Adler sees herself as part of a largely forgotten, seemingly speechless generation, inconspicuous to the point of anonymity. The voice Adler has developed in her novels (and to a lesser extent in her nonfiction) to capture this sense of anonymity is, paradoxically, remarkably distinctive, yet it is similar in certain ways to the minimalism of her contemporaries Leonard Michaels, Ronald Sukonick, and Joan Didion. Having begun her career as a journalist (much of her work has appeared in The New Yorker), Adler served as film critic for The New York Times in the late 1960’s, and this latter experience helps to account for the cinematic, jump-cut quality of her work.

The cinematically disjunctive style and structure of her novels are designed to reflect an equally disjunctive world, or, rather, an equally disjunctive...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Adler, Renata. Toward a Radical Middle: Fourteen Pieces of Reporting and Criticism. New York: Random House, 1970. The essays collected here and Adler’s introduction provide useful background to understanding her politics and generation.

Epstein, Joseph. “The Sunshine Girls.” Commentary 77 (June, 1984): 62-67. This review of Pitch Dark and Joan Didion’s Democracy (1984) offers a critical overview of two writers whom Epstein faults for their fragmented narrative structure and their unearned pessimism.

Kornbluth, Jesse. “The Quirky Brilliance of Renata Adler.” New York 16 (December 12, 1983): 34-40. An invaluable profile of a writer about whose life little is known outside the New York cultural circle.

Shattuck, Roger. “Quanta.” The New York Review of Books 31 (March 15, 1984): 3. Shattuck finds Pitch Dark less novelistic than autobiographical or confessional. This “inwardly impassioned work” shows little interest in outward events yet offers nevertheless a sense of its times through Adler’s two “astutely shuffled” narratives.

Todd, Richard. Review of Speedboat, by Renata Adler. The Atlantic Monthly 238 (October, 1976): 112-114. Argues that the atmosphere of Speedboat is existential but that its sensibility is not, in fact, free from stock response of any kind. Adler “is a spare, self-possessed writer who can do more in an aphoristic aside than many writers can do with a chapter.”

Towers, Robert. Review of Speedboat, by Renata Adler. The New York Times Book Review, September 26, 1976, 6-7. Towers finds the absence of plot a problem but claims that the novel is redeemed by the narrator’s reports of and reflections on the contemporary phenomena immediately around her. Unlike the French New Novels, Speedboat “is neither boring nor dehumanized.”