June 23, 2015 | by Geoff Dyer
In memory of James Salter, who died last week, the Daily is republishing a series of essays from 2011, when Salter received The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. In today’s piece, Geoff Dyer looks at Salter’s first novel, The Hunters.
To learn more about Salter, read his 1993 Art of Fiction interview or one of his stories from the magazine: “Sundays” (1966), “Am Strande von Tanger” (1968), “Via Negativa” (1972), and “Bangkok” (2003) are available in full online.
The Hunters (1957) was Salter’s first novel and remains the most concise expression of his talents. It is based closely on his own experience as a pilot flying combat missions in Korea. The war in the air proceeds in tandem with a near civil war on the ground as the pilots vie with each other to achieve the coveted five kills that will make them aces. The conflicting demands between ensuring the safety of comrades (the “sacred” duty of the wingman) and the individual daring—recklessness even—needed to shoot down MiGs threaten to destroy the central character, Cleve Connell.
In Burning the Days Salter recalls a friend’s advising him that “the original form of storytelling is someone saying, I was there and this is what I beheld.” As soon as he began writing, Salter knew that his time as a fighter pilot would give his storytelling this elemental immediacy and power. (The magnificent climactic scene of the novel involves an incident mentioned briefly in the memoir, when two planes, out of fuel, are forced to glide back to base.) Earlier still, when he was learning to fly, Salter had fallen under the spell of the most famous writer-pilot of them all, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “it was his knowledge I admired, his wholeness of mind, more than his exploits. ... In [his] footsteps I would follow.” (This tradition—or perhaps trajectory is a better word—has recently been extended by Jed Mercurio. Part of his novel Ascent (2007), about Soviet pilots flying MiGs in Korea, can be read as a commentary on—or duel with?—Salter, whose novel, presumably, served as template and inspiration.) Cassada has at its core an event that is in some ways a reworking of the kind of crisis imaginatively depicted by Saint-Exupéry in Night Flight as two lost planes drift past their landing strip, cut off from the earth by darkness and rain clouds. The Hunters contains a direct allusion to the master, a translation of the lyricism of Wind, Sand and Stars (“Below the sea of clouds lies eternity”) into the argot of the jet age, the dawn of the right stuff: “There was a mission when they conned across seas of eternity, never catching sight of the ground except at the beginning and end.” Not that Salter is lacking in his own lyric gifts. The experience of flight, the mysteries of the sky, remain as intoxicating and magical as they were for the pilots of propeller-driven biplanes:
Suddenly Pell called out something at three o’clock. Cleve looked. He could not tell what it was at first. Far out, a strange, dreamy rain was falling, silver and wavering. It was a group of drop tanks, tumbling down from above, the fuel and vapor streaming from them. Cleve counted them at a glance. There were a dozen or more, going down like thin cries fading in silence. That many tanks meant MiGs. He searched the sky above, but saw nothing.
June 22, 2015 | by The Paris Review
We were sad to learn that James Salter died on Friday at ninety. “He once called himself a ‘frotteur,’ saying he liked to rub words between his fingers,” Louisa Thomas wrote today in Grantland. “He wrote for the ear, not the eye, in lines that are long and unspooling or short and taut as bowstrings … It is in their quiet accumulation, the way they weave together, that they become transparent, graceful, and devastating.”
Salter had a long affiliation with The Paris Review; the quarterly published many of his stories, beginning with “Sundays”, which appeared in our Summer 1966 issue. George Plimpton published Salter’s novel A Sport and a Pastime through Paris Review Editions, a short-lived imprint attached to Doubleday. “Although I have never managed to appear on the masthead, which has innumerable people on it,” Salter said in his 1993 Art of Fiction interview, “I feel I am a member of the family.”
In 2011, we awarded Salter our Hadada Prize, given annually to a “distinguished member of the literary community who has demonstrated a strong and unique commitment to literature.” This week, to celebrate and remember him, the Daily will rerun a series of pieces about him written in anticipation of that award. To begin, we’re reprinting his acceptance speech, given April 12, 2011.
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April 3, 2015 | by Chris Oliveros
About a dozen years ago, while I was on a business trip to the Bay Area, the cartoonist Adrian Tomine asked if we could meet to discuss an idea he had of publishing the work of an obscure, mostly forgotten Japanese cartoonist named Yoshihiro Tatsumi. At that point, only one collection of Tatsumi’s comics had been translated and published in English, and that edition, from 1987, wasn’t produced in the best of circumstances: it was a bootleg, published without Tatsumi’s permission, featuring poorly reproduced artwork and somewhat stilted dialogue as a result of a subpar translation. And yet somehow that lone volume managed to find its way to Sacramento in the late 1980s, into the hands of then-fourteen-year-old Adrian Tomine at precisely the moment when his own sensibility as a cartoonist was beginning to take form.
During our meeting, Adrian showed me this book, as well as many more untranslated pages that he had managed to track down. It didn’t take much (if any) convincing on his part: I was immediately impressed with Tatsumi’s stark artwork, and there was a definite appeal in the narrative representation of the dark underside of late sixties Tokyo. Drawn & Quarterly managed to secure the rights and commission proper translations, which led to the publication of several volumes of Tatsumi’s short stories, with Adrian working very closely on every aspect—as editor, designer, and even letterer of the series.
We were little surprised when the series received immediate acclaim. After all, the everyday realism portrayed in Tatsumi’s comics has a particular affinity with literary graphic novels of North America, with one important exception: Tatsumi’s comics (which he called gekiga, meaning “dramatic pictures”) predated any similar material being produced here by at least a couple of decades. Read More »
March 12, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
The BBC has just reported that Terry Pratchett has died at sixty-six. Pratchett wrote more than seventy books, most of them part of his Discworld series: satirical, philosophical fantasy novels that earned him a wide readership, sometimes at the expense of the critical attention his work merits. “Terry Pratchett is not one to go gentle into any night, good or otherwise,” his friend Neil Gaiman wrote of him last June, as he was beginning to slip away to Alzheimer’s. “He will rage, as he leaves, against so many things: stupidity, injustice, human foolishness and shortsightedness, not just the dying of the light … Terry Pratchett is not a jolly old elf at all. Not even close.”
Here’s a bit from Pratchett’s 2007 essay, “Notes from a Successful Fantasy Author: Keep it Real.” It speaks to genre fiction’s unique position as a vehicle for social commentary, and to the set of logic puzzles a fantasy novelist faces in trying to build a new world. You can find it in A Slip of the Keyboard, a collection of his nonfiction published last year. Read More »
February 26, 2015 | by Taylor Plimpton and Family
The daughter of Willard R. Espy and Hilda Cole Espy, both writers, Freddy was born in New York City and grew up in Mt. Kisco, New York, alongside her twin sister, Mona Schreiber; her younger sisters, Joanna Espy and Cassy Espy; and her younger brother, Jefferson Espy. She graduated from Fox Lane High School in 1959, and then attended Parsons School of Design. She moved to New York in the early sixties, where she worked at Random House writing book-jacket copy and later became a photographer’s assistant. Considered one of the great beauties of the times, she married the author and editor George Ames Plimpton in 1968, with whom she later had two children, Medora Ames Plimpton and Taylor Ames Plimpton. Freddy traveled with George on the campaign trail as an integral part of Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 run for the presidency and was present to witness the great tragedy at the Ambassador Hotel when Kennedy was shot and killed. Read More »
February 15, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
We were saddened to learn that Philip Levine died yesterday at eighty-seven. The U.S. poet laureate from 2011 to 2012, he composed poems that were, as Margalit Fox writes in the New York Times, “vibrantly, angrily, and often painfully alive with the sound, smell, and sinew of heavy manual labor.”
Levine grew up in industrial Detroit during the Depression; the son of Russian Jewish immigrants, he worked factory jobs for Cadillac and for Chevrolet. “You could recite poems aloud in there,” he told The Paris Review in 1988 of his time on the assembly line. “The noise was so stupendous. Some people singing, some people talking to themselves, a lot of communication going on with nothing, no one to hear.”
His time in those jobs would later inform one of his most enduring poems, “They Feed They Lion,” from the late sixties—you can hear him read it above. Levine explained the title in a 1999 interview with The Atlantic: Read More »