James Salter Month
December 28, 2011 | by Alexander Chee
We’re out this week, but we’re re-posting some of our favorite pieces from 2011 while we’re away. We hope you enjoy—and have a happy New Year!
When I try to write about sex, I think back to when I was just out of college and, handy with a makeup brush, took a job to make some extra money doing makeup on a gay-porn film set. On the second day, we filmed a three-way that took up most of the day. The actors struggled: one was hard, the others weren’t, then the others were and the first was not, and so on. After a few hours, the director sent us all out of the room and turned out the lights so the actors could work it out. This was before Viagra—you had to have an honest hard-on to shoot. We waited outside the dark room, the lights out, even the cameramen outside, waiting, until finally we heard the signal, and then the crew rushed back in to film. We turned on the lights.
The actors were made to pause, immediately. I had to touch them up.
They were panting, sweating like athletes. They’d rubbed off most of what I’d put on them. As they held their positions, I touched them up. I thought about how something had happened in the dark that we couldn’t see, an excitement that couldn’t be in the film. It was probably better than what we would film, more interesting.
It seems to me I am always in pursuit of that.
April 12, 2011 | by J. D. Daniels
Our Spring Revel is tonight, April 12. In anticipation of the event, The Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating James Salter, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize.
Imagine: there is a man who likes to climb mountains. It’s the only thing he likes. Of course he likes women, too, but he won’t put them at the center of his life. “I’m not really a great climber,” he says, “I’m not that talented.” He just loves it more than anyone else does, or can. But he isn’t climbing. His name is Vernon Rand, and he’s bumming around, roofing, picking up work out in Los Angeles.
And then one day, playing father to his girlfriend’s twelve-year-old son, he encounters his old climbing companion, Jack Cabot. That they are lost brothers is admitted outright, but not that Cabot is Rand’s animating force, prophet, bird or devil, tempter sent.
As for Rand, he had had a brilliant start and then defected. Something had weakened in him. That was long ago. He was like an animal that has wintered somewhere, in the shadow of a hedgerow or barn, and one morning, mud-stained and dazed, shakes itself and comes to life. Sitting there [with Cabot], he remembered past days, their glory. He remembered the thrill of height.
That’s all it takes, Cabot’s tapping on the door. That in Rand which loves the mountain stirs.
There was something he had to tell her. He was leaving, she said. She could hardly hear him.
He repeated it. He was going away.
“When?” she asked foolishly. It was all she could manage to say.
“Tomorrow,” she said.
April 11, 2011 | by Kate Petersen
Our Spring Revel is tomorrow, April 12. In anticipation of the event, The Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating James Salter, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. Here is Salter himself, discussing his new novel and reflecting on his work as a writer and a teacher.
Tell me about your new novel.
I’ve been working on it for some years. I’d had the idea for a long time, but I was unconsciously waiting for a line from Christopher Hitchens. He wrote somewhere that “No life is complete that has not known poverty, love, and war.” That struck me, and I began with that.
I haven’t followed it through. Poverty doesn’t play much of a part. Betrayal does, and it’s a book that has a little more plot than other books of mine. It’s about an editor, a book editor, it’s the story of his life.
In your Paris Review interview with Edward Hirsch, you describe this image of your friend Robert Phelps going through his books, taking down the ones that didn’t measure up and leaving them in the hall. Reading your work, one gets the sense that there is a similar process at work—that everything unnecessary or plain has been taken away.
Yes, that’s probably a fault of the writing.
I think I’d like to write a little less intensely.
April 8, 2011 | by Thessaly La Force
At every magazine or publishing house, there’s always an editor or two with a knack for titles. But even so, rarely does one come in a flash of divine inspiration. There are iterations and themes and the same words written over and over. Here is a glimpse of what James Salter’s process was like with his novel Light Years (a book both Jhumpa Lahiri and Porochista Khakpour wrote about this week). Salter seems so close at points, circling back to light and years, sometimes on the same page but not always the same line, ranking his favorites and weighing the opinions of others.
April 8, 2011 | by Rosalind Parry
In honor of James Salter month, and in lieu of This Week’s Reading, we are opening our archives to share some of the many short stories that Salter published in the Review. “Sundays” (issue 38, 1966) is a sensual, contemplative story (and part of what we all have come to know as the novel A Sport and a Pastime). Every setting is intimate and quiet and seems to belong entirely to the couple at the center of the story: the bed they awake in, the lake they dip their faces in, the pines they picnic in, the cafe they take shelter in, and the bed to which they return:
They put their clothes on behind the car. No one else is around. Near to shore the surface of the water is broken by weeds. The leather seats are hot, and when Dean starts the engine small birds skim out ofthe grass and out across the lake.
They eat in Montsauche in a little auberge. Sunday. Everything is hushed. Dean sits looking out at the street. It’s a silent meal. Afterwards there is nothing to do. He feels as if he is taking care of a child. He is thinking of other things. The day seems long. They drive—Dean takes the top down and they head towards Nevers, the wind curving in, the sun on their backs. He begins to grow sleepy. They pull off the road.
They sit down under the trees. Pines. It’s very quiet. The dry cones click in the breeze. The shadow of branches is laid across their faces. Dean closes his eyes. He is almost asleep.
“Phillipe,” he hears her say.
“I would like to make love in the woods sometime.”
“You’ve never done that?”
“Strange,” he says.
He lies. “Yes.”
“I have never. Is it nice?”
“Yes,” he says. It’s the last thing he remembers.
April 7, 2011 | by Ian Crouch
Our Spring Revel is on April 12. In anticipation of the event, The Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating James Salter, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize. If you’re interested in purchasing tickets to the Revel, click here.
There may have been less startling primers on adult sexuality than James Salter’s novel A Sport and a Pastime for me to read as a young man, but few could have been as illuminating or comprehensive. Anyway, as with cold water, it is best to jump in. Or as the novel's narrator explains, citing Rilke, “there are no classes for beginners in life, the most difficult thing is always asked of one right away.” The erotic passages are justly famous, scandalous in 1967 and still instructional, in a practical sense, decades later. There was much to learn: about terminology (the male organ is rightly called a prick), positions (nothing tantric, but interesting for a teenager), and accessories (“In his clothing he conceals, like an assassin, a small tube of lubricant”). Salter is a great celebrant of the human anatomy and its various uses, but is equivocal about the emotions that sex produces: it can be tender, selfish, thrilling, boring, and, at times, even murderous, producing a “satanic happiness.”
The more significant education, however, came from Salter’s sensibility, his mature insistence that sex is more than just a private act conducted by two people in the dark, that it exists as a part of history, with a past and future as well as a present. Also: that sex is central to love, which is central to life; that greatness and heroism exist in even the most common of places; and perhaps most striking, that “straight” men could be in love with each other.
The novel follows an affair in France between Phillip Dean, an American, and his lover, a young Frenchwoman named Anne-Marie, and is told from the perspective of a voyeuristic, sometimes obsessive third person, the narrator, who feels from Dean “the pull of a dark star.” Dean may be petulant and inconstant, but he is in some essential way pure.