Long admired by Roth and Bellow, James Salter is set to join their ranks. David Annand hails the great American writer’s first novel in thirty years.
For 50-odd years James Salter has been the writer’s writer. Richard Ford calls him “the Master”, Bellow was an admirer, Roth, too, and all over Brooklyn satchels bulge with copies of Light Years and The Hunters.
It was something, I suspect, that always worked better for us than it did for him. We got that insider buzz of knowing that we were part of the cloistered few. He got lots of writerly plaudits about the precision of his sentences, but was denied, perhaps, the deep thematic engagement that comes with central cultural import.
Either way, it’s over. In a late flurry he has picked up The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize, the PEN/Malamud lifetime award, and, now, to coincide with the publication of what will surely be his last novel, across-the-board adulation.
You might have thought it irritating for old Jim that all this has happened deep into his eighties, past the age when you would want to take full advantage of the perks of full-blown literary celebrity. But really it’s of little consequence – he’s already done enough living and then some. Improbably masculine and accomplished, he was a combat fighter pilot in the Korean War. He became an accomplished skier (he wrote the screenplay for Robert Redford’s Downhill Racer); a daring mountain climber (Solo Faces, a novel, appeared on the topic in 1979); and found time to write five novels, dozens of short stories, non-fiction and some poetry.
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