Books, Documentaries, Reviews: March 31, 2014
Renata Adler’s PITCH DARK
I promised I’d “let you know” what I thought about Renata Adler’s novel Pitch Dark, published in 1983.
You may recall in an earlier blog post that I’d heard this novel recommended during a pre-New Year’s “Best Books of 2013” NPR program.
This novel is a very “modern” novel–in that it is challenging the very form of the novel itself.
You may recall that I also wrote recently about Jeffrey Eugenides’s novel The Marriage Plot, wherein Eugenides attempts to forge a novel that does not fall back on the “marriage plot” since with divorce, women are no longer tied to marriages they want to abandon.
But Renata Adler moves light years beyond the still-entertaining story of The Marriage Plot. Adler does not have a plot at all. This “novel” consists of a series of vignettes that are not even loosely held together and that are all mixed up in time. There is no narrative flow.
Is it interesting?
Yes, some of the vignettes are. And she does circle back to at least one so the reader gets some sense of the final outcome. And I think she circled back to show just how deep the moral abyss can be in modern society.
I enjoyed the protagonists musings on social and historical events and on how some of our systems work. These musings certainly provoke one to think a bit more deeply.
But, I do think Muriel Sparks, who wrote the Afterward, is correct:
This, I think is the vision of life reflected in Miss Adler’s fiction. Nothing evolves, nothing derives. Effects do not result from causes. Episodes are recorded without any connection with each other. Fortunately, they are fascinating episodes.
So, what happens to the moral fabric of society is one can no longer be certain that certain desired effects stem from causes, that if one does bad things they will be punished in some way? Truthfully, bad people are not always punished. Some of them make and enjoy a great deal of money. And good can come out of bad, as we clearly see in Donna Tartt’s THE GOLDFINCH, also discussed on this blog. What happens if we are all more adrift in society than we ever thought? What happens if some of us are “disciplined subjects” and follow the rules, but others don’t. And, prosper.
This novel is not for everyone. It’s not an easy, enjoyable read with a pleasant narrative that takes us away from ourselves. No, rather, it focuses on truths and questions most of us would rather avoid because there isn’t anything we can do about them at all. And that’s not going to change in a modern world where people are so detached from one another, where a community is not viewing the actions of its individual members with an eye toward protecting the health of the community.