(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Whether Jen will have the baby and whether she will tell Jim that he is the father are questions that neither Jen nor Adler try to answer. Neither are they questions about which the novel tries to interest the reader overmuch, at least directly. In this postmodern retelling of the early cliffhanger The Perils of Pauline, the action is not in conventional plot and/or in carefully defined moral codes. The novel’s opening section, enigmatically entitled “Castling,” makes that fact abundantly clear. Suggesting “casting off,” “casting away,” flycasting, and a chess move involving a castle (rook) and king, the word also implies a castle, city, or self under siege, a situation in which certain conventions, possibilities, and freedoms no longer apply. Yet “castling” also refers to the second or third swarm to leave a hive in season (a definition appropriate to the novel’s overall structure) and, more portentously in the light of Jen’s own feelings of inadequacy and her pregnancy, to what the Oxford English Dictionary calls “the offspring of an untimely birth, an abortion.” Whether this particular meaning should be read in terms of Jen’s being pregnant or her belonging to a post-Hemingway “lost generation” is moot. Finally, however, the anachronistic word “castling” will recall for many readers the more familiar word “quisling,” or traitor. This definition is appropriate to Speedboat because Jen—in her “flat” style, quick cuts, and handling of all material as “found objects” and “short-lived phenomena” to be treated in terms of equivalence—betrays (that is, reveals) both herself and the group linked by age, class, and education that she represents....

(The entire section is 701 words.)