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What is really going on here? For decades Renata Adler has been asking and answering this question with unmatched urgency. In her essays and long-form journalism, she has captured the cultural zeitgeist, distrusted the accepted wisdom, and written stories that would otherwise go untold. As a staff writer at The New Yorker from 1963 to 2001, Adler reported on civil rights from Selma, Alabama; on the war in Biafra, the Six-Day War, and the Vietnam War; on the Nixon impeachment inquiry and Congress; on cultural life in Cuba. She has also written about cultural matters in the United States, films (as chief film critic for The New York Times), books, politics, television, and pop music. Like many journalists, she has put herself in harmвЂ™s way in order to give us the news, not the вЂњnewsвЂќ we have become accustomed toвЂ”celebrity journalism, conventional wisdom, received ideasвЂ”but the actual story, an account unfettered by ideology or consensus. She has been unafraid to speak up when too many other writers have joined the pack. In this sense, Adler is one of the few independent journalists writing in America today.
This collection of AdlerвЂ™s nonfiction draws on Toward a Radical Middle (a selection of her earliest New Yorker pieces), A Year in the Dark (her film reviews), and Canaries in the Mineshaft (a selection of essays on politics and media), and also includes uncollected work from the past two decades. The more recent pieces are concerned with, in her words, вЂњmisrepresentation, coercion, and abuse of public process, and, to a degree, the journalistвЂ™s role in it.вЂќ With a brilliant literary and legal mind, Adler parses power by analyzing language: the language of courts, of journalists, of political figures, of the man on the street. In doing so, she unravels the tangled narratives that pass for the resolution of scandal and finds the threads that others miss, the ones that explain what really is going on hereвЂ”from the Watergate scandal, to the вЂњpreposterousвЂќ Kenneth Starr report submitted to the House during the Clinton impeachment inquiry, to the plagiarism and fabrication scandal of the former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair. And she writes extensively about the Supreme Court and the power of its rulings, including its fateful decision in Bush v. Gore.
Journalist and novelist Adler (Speedboat) offers what she considers the best of her essays in this large, bracing volume. She doesnвЂ™t shy away from colorful details, such as вЂњDickensian charactersвЂќ on the Sunset Strip or вЂњpicnics at the frontвЂќ on the Gaza Strip during the Six-Day War, but she is at her best covering вЂњturning points,вЂќ from a Black Power march in Mississippi in 1966 to the Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore. One of her favored methods of criticizing powerful, influential figures is making lists, such as film critic Pauline KaelвЂ™s вЂњfavoriteвЂќ (and overused) words, or Bob Woodward and Scott ArmstrongвЂ™s references, throughout their book The Brethren, to the Supreme Court JusticesвЂ™ вЂњmoods and feelings.вЂќ AdlerвЂ™s opinions are as reasoned as they are relentless. She assails with absolute conviction, as she proves in her rebukes of Kael and Robert Bork, among others. Perhaps the most fascinating piece is a lengthy, sympathetic profile of G. Gordon Liddy during a 1980 book tour. Elsewhere, she produces interesting juxtapositions with essays about the abuse of presidential power in the Watergate and Monica Lewinsky scandals. These selections, united by a persistent theme of the вЂњmisrepresentation, coercion, and abuse of public process, and... the journalistвЂ™s role in it,вЂќ demonstrate that AdlerвЂ™s uncompromising insistence on accuracy and accountability is what ultimately makes her writing so incisive. (Apr.)
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