Oh, James Salter, we cannot be friends.

allthatisI’m really torn on this one because Salter’s prose is gorgeous. I can see why he’s put in the same category as Roth & other literary-white-males-writing-about-white-males. Take a look at this quote:

“Beatrice, perhaps because of her father’s death, which she remembered clearly, had a certain lingering dread of the fall…They knew. Everything knew, the beetles, the frogs, the crows solemnly walking across the lawn. The sun was at its zenith and embraced the world, but it was ending, all that one loved was at risk” (25).

I love this. I feel the same way about September—it’s beautiful, but it’s the beginning of the end, and there’s so much sadness for that. I love books that put into beautiful words what I haven’t or can’t express. A good book does that, I think.

On the other hand, the plot of this book was…well, there wasn’t really one. Instead, we get basically all the love affairs throughout one man’s life. I know that author=/ narrator, but this guy was so obnoxiously misogynistic—for example:

“He told her everything. He knew she didn’t think about these things,
but she understood and could learn. He loved her for not only what she was
but what she might be, the idea that she might be otherwise
did not occur to him or did not matter” (43).

That makes me itch. It also makes me want to throw something, a little bit. I mean, sure, it’s a little tongue in cheek, but it’s not just that quote—it’s an entire book’s worth of attitude toward women. It’s the fact that nothing is sacred—if the girl is pretty, what does it matter if she’s in a relationship or married? He goes through like six or seven women, tossing them all (or getting tossed, finally) when he gets bored.

This is basically the whole plot. So while I did really love the writing itself, Salter’s turn of phrase, rhythm, and diction, and I will be picking up A Sport and a Pastime eventually, I am not going to be recommending this one to all my friends. Skip it, pick up something else instead. Like Life After Life.

I’ll leave you with one last quote that I’m pretty sure I violently disagree with, just for funsies.

“The power of the novel in the nation’s culture had weakened.
It had happened gradually. It was something everyone recognized
and ignored. All went on exactly as before, that was the beauty of it.
The glory had faded but fresh faces kept appearing, wanting to be
part of it, to be in publishing, which had retained a suggestion of
elegance like a pair of beautiful, bone-shined shoes owned by a
bankrupt man” (261).

This is exactly why the love-hate relationship. On one hand, this is gorgeous. The simile in the last sentence is PHENOMENAL. But the sentiment itself–I just can’t get on board with it. eBooks have brought books back into the spotlight, in my opinion, like they haven’t been in years. For good or for bad, I’ve had more discussion about books and where they’re going in the last few years than…ever. Phenomena like Harry Potter, Twilight, and Fifty Shades of Gray (however much I may not personally like the last two) keep bookstores in business, and the power of the novel–like, for example, The Orphan Master’s Son, is as strong, in my mind, as it’s ever been. So there, James Salter. So there.

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4 thoughts on “Oh, James Salter, we cannot be friends.

    • Well, and to be fair, James Salter is probably a very nice guy. But his narrator is a dick–and I’m sure Salter intended some deep meaning or showed growth or something–but I didn’t like the narrator, and thus I could not like the book.

  1. Great post. It’s an interesting discussion… the beauty of the writing against the content or the narrative. I think it depends juts how morally objectionable we find the content… I haven’t yet read anything by Salter. But most of my favourite books are favourites because of the writing style as much as what they’re about.

    • That’s very true, and there are other books (especially those that were written when attitudes were, well, different) that I still love. I guess the really cardinal sin of this one is that I got really bored. The writing was beautiful, but it wasn’t quite enough (at least for me) to make up for a dragging plot.

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