Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Sport and a Pastime

I finished James Salter's novel, title above, having previously read The Light Years. I've heard many people gush about him, particularly other writers, but I have to say, I don't really get it. The writing is good, of course, frequently lovely and I enjoyed his wonderful evocation of the French countryside, describing the seasons, the light, the empty sidewalks and cafes. But the people -- the characters -- I don't connect to at all. He reminds me of Fitzgerald and of Hemingway in the kinds of people he writes about, the floaters on the waves of other people's money, angst-ridden adventurers, the sad, jaded rich, and beautiful virgins/whores that figure as enchantresses and victims and the left-behind. They never seem real to me, and in fact, they just get on my nerves. Is it a class thing? Those vaguely patrician, Ivy-league educated ne'er-do-wells and American women who go abroad to get a title and a villa? It's all just a little too precious for me.

I won't say I hated it, but I read it without much joy. In a better way it reminded me of William Maxwell's The Chateau, but mainly because both stories concern Americans (always cast as innocents -- a well-worn theme) abroad in post-war France, adrift in an alien, if alluring culture. Well, anyway, I think that does me for the Salter experience.

I've been thinking I might re-read (which I don't often do) Little, Big by Crowley. It definitely merits another reading, and I'm sure I'll soak up more the second time. It's so magical and mysterious and suggestive. A review on its 25th anniversary just appeared in the Guardian. He has a new novel in the works -- WWII era, I believe.

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