“Burning the Days”

Almost exactly two years ago, I wrote of my pleasure in James Salter’s memoir, Burning the Days. (https://theresakishkan.com/2013/06/04/five-generations/) I’d read one of his novels, A Sport and a Pastime, many years ago and was enchanted with his prose style. After reading the memoir, I immediately ordered his story collections, Dusk and other stories, and Last Night. I also ordered his most recent novel, All That Is, and couldn’t put it down, reading late into the night to finish it. It was troubling in some ways. The main character is self-absorbed and a womanizer in that old way I remember from my young womanhood (when several times men in cocktail bars sent drinks to me via the waiter, along with notes saying that they felt we had something in common. My friends and I would lower our eyes and smile. Now, when such a thing is in no danger of happening again, I think I’d respond very differently) and he takes revenge on a former lover in a manner which I found horrifying. But oh, what a stylist. Every paragraph had something to teach me about language and structure.  In his introduction to Salter’s novel, Light Years, Richard Ford says that, “It is an article of faith among readers of fiction that James Salter writes American sentences better than anybody writing today.” And yes, they are American sentences. This is something I’ll try to write about another time, the nationality of writing styles, sentences (think of Hemingway, Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor), and even cultural obsessions. But for now let me mourn, as a reader, James Salter’s death, yesterday, in Sag Harbor, New York. He was 90 years old.

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