Monday, April 1, 2013

James Salter - Tomorrow!

For as long as I've been reading interviews with authors the name James Salter has been mentioned as one of America's greats. Why then, don't we have enough of his books in our very large library system? It's an embarrassment. I tried to get his most famous novel, A Sport and A Pastime, a few years ago and actually had to put in a purchase request to have it added to the collection. Is it any wonder I worry about retiring?

I had the opportunity to read All That Is, the much anticipated novel that will be out tomorrow around the country, and was knocked out by the concise, lovely prose. Perhaps I'm drawn to Salter because of the connection I sense that he has with my dad with whom he's a contemporary. Salter had a long career in the Air Force before his success as a full time writer and actually crash landed into a house in my hometown, Great Barrington, Massachusetts, while training back in the '40's. Apparently that story is recalled in his memoir (which we also don't own in my library system) Burning the Days.

I don't believe that I'm the only one who will be clamoring for Salter's previous books after reading All That Is. Ironically, if this had been written by a woman it would be dismissed as "women's fiction." It is an unabashedly romantic novel, the story of one man, Philip Bowman, and his yearning for fulfillment through love. It's also a marvelous look at the publishing industry in its heyday as Bowman is a very successful editor, living an enviable life of travel and hobnobbing with the literary greats of the 20th century.

Armchair travelers will thrill to Salter's detailed descriptions of London, Paris and the great cities of Spain. Still, the biggest surprise to me was his perfectly realized, sensuous but never prurient, scenes of lovemaking. Salter obviously adores women, the female body, and the way it works. Philip falls deeply in love at various times in his life and is such an attentive lover and friend that one wonders why his affairs seem destined to fail. I cared so much for him that I took it personally yesterday when I read of one particularly devious betrayal.

This relatively short novel, 297 pages, teems with life and is a joy to read. His style has been compared to Hemingway's but I find it much more satisfying. Sentences beg to be read aloud and shared. If you've never heard of or read James Salter, do run out and place this book on hold. It could be his last.

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