Pitch Dark by Renata Adler with Joao Pato Kite Duck Rose
It seems to me that gossip can have two functions: To warn and to entertain. Renata Adler’s fiction does both; it gets at the “teeth of the question: is this altogether true?” She tells us: the world is not alright, but through a series of entertaining fragments we are able to piece together a story from the narrator’s observations, as filtered through our own. It’s a story told aslant, without clear hierarchy or readily apparent moralization, the way gossip is often delivered. Like much gossip, or perhaps gossipers, Adler’s form of relaying the story turns inward: the narrator is not held apart from their own assessments, and in making them she exposes her own complicity— intentionally or not.
But unlike other gossip, Adler’s stories are not off the cuff: they are precisely rendered. What may at first seem tangential, a leap, like a puddle that diverges us from taking the straighter, more well-trodden path, is in fact a form of story telling, or perhaps construction, that takes full advantage of the powers of repetition and pattern. We’ll get there eventually, but only Adler remains certain of the how steep the pitch through the dark. But what to make of all of it? Adler’s lightly fictional world. The point. The trouble at the Tennis Court. As readers of Adler we will have missed the point if all we take from Pitch Dark is a small shudder of recognition, even among the deeply uncomfortable which Adler so cooly pokes. But then, what is the point? There are parts of Adler’s 1982 novel that read like prophetic warning: the technology age, corporate greed, insidious systemic racism, and other parts that quickened my attention as though reading a thriller (A Love thriller, if such a genre exists), piecing together my own ending from a series of questions and clues, repeated. “Is it always the same story then?” Certainly not. Are the many parts altogether separate? Absolutely not. But if reading has taught me anything, it’s that the things that ask more than they answer that often leave us seismically changed.
“Is there any certification of the human character?” reads a fortune-cookie-esque note affixed to the neck of this month’s wine. The note is for me, or more specifically the potential consumers of this precise bottle of Duckman Kite Rosé that sat beside me while reading Pitch Dark. So, me. As a rosé it drinks more like an orange: a blend of Baga and Fernão Pires that smells like a peach and drinks (when pulled straight from the fridge as I first encountered it) cold. Steely, like the exposed light of an operating room or the shape of Adler’s prose, but turns softer with each sip: its almost ironish austerity giving way to something vegetal like carrots plucked and savored unwashed in the height of summer. Or whatever moment we may find ourselves in this month where “the sun is a sort of bribe,” and the weather turns as quickly as you’ve figured out how to live in it. To drink this month’s wine then is a thrill of sorts, just as it will be to uncover the message affixed to your own bottle: we know there isn’t one agreed upon definition of the human character, but if there were, Adler would certainly have something to say about it.
Renata Adler is the author of the novels Speedboat and Pitch Dark as well as many, many pieces of nonfiction, some of which are collected in After the Tall Timber: Collected Non-Fiction. About Adler poet and essayist Claudia Rankin said, “she was both in the world and in the room,” making her a keen observer of her generation (the 1970s, 80s) but no less a part of it. For me, it seems like such an apt summary of one thing the novel is doing. Speedboat seems to be everyone’s favorite, but I can’t get enough of the use of repetition, pattern, and self-interrogation happening in Pitch Dark, as well as that bit about the raccoon: I shall be haunted by it forever.
Duckman (aka Joao Pato) is the project of Maria Pato, daughter of Luis Pato, inspired by her love of the Bairrada (Portugal) region and varietals, and sense of feeling constrained by the standards of wine making in the region. The Kite duck is macerated for two weeks (after the Fernão Pires grape sees 5 days skin contact), then aged in old French Oak for 6 months. The bottles have a series of unique fortune-esque notes attached to the neck, so look out.