Last night, close to five hundred people gathered at Cipriani’s 42nd Street to honor James Salter at our Spring Revel. Robert Redford was there to present the Hadada Prize to Salter. The two have known each other since the sixties, when Salter wrote the screenplay for Downhill Racer. Said Redford at the podium, “I am lucky to be here tonight to honor a man who is my friend and whom I respect deeply.” As Salter took the stage, guests at every table stood up, applauding the author. Salter thanked George Plimpton for publishing his novel A Sport and a Pastime, and as he picked up the statuette he told the crowd, “This is my Stockholm.”
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.
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.
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.
On Tuesday, The Paris Review will be hosting its Spring Revel, a fund-raiser held each year at Cipriani’s 42nd Street. As readers of The Daily may already know, Robert Redford will be presenting James Salter with The Paris Review Hadada; Fran Lebowitz will be awarding Elif Batuman the Terry Southern Humor Prize for her piece in The Daily called “My 12-Hour Blind Date with Dostoevsky”; and Ann Beattie will be giving April Ayers Lawson the Plimpton Prize for her short story “Virgin.” It’s a very fun affair. To quote Mary Karr: the Revel is “prom for New York intellectuals.”
We are excited for those of you who are already coming. A few tickets are left, and it goes without saying that they are available for purchase to all of our readers.
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.