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Rediscovering Renata Adler

In the past few weeks, there have been quite a number of pieces published on the two novels of Renata Adler, which were reissued this week by The New York Review of Books. Nearly all of them contain a reference to the infamously negative review Adler wrote of her former New Yorker colleague Pauline Kael’s book of collected film criticism. Usually the reviewer quotes one particularly damning line from Adler’s 8,000-word excoriation of Kael’s book, but really, the whole thing is a masterwork of literary analysis. In the beginning of the piece, Adler demonstrates her great talent for deflating an idea by giving us a nutshell description of the critic’s job:

What [the critics] provide is a necessary consumer service, which consists
essentially of three parts: a notice that the work exists, and where it can be
bought, found, or attended; a set of adjectives appearing to set forth an
opinion of some sort, but amounting really to a yes vote or a no vote; and a
somewhat nonjudgmental, factual description or account, which is usually
inferior by any journalistic standard to reporting in all other sections of the

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