Monday, June 22, 2015

James Salter Dead at 90

American literary legend James Salter died at home in Sag Harbor, New York, last Friday.

Wikipedia described Salter as “one of the most artistic writers of modern American fiction,” adding that the author was very critical of his own work:
… only his 1967 novel A Sport and a Pastime comes close to living up to his standards. Set in post-war France, A Sport and a Pastime is a piece of erotica involving an American student and a young Frenchwoman, told as flashbacks in the present tense by an unnamed narrator who barely knows the student, also yearns for the woman, and freely admits that most of his narration is fantasy. Many characters in Salter's short stories and novels reflect his passion for European culture and, in particular, for France, which he describes as a "secular holy land.
The New Yorker sends Salter off lovingly in a piece by Nick Paumgarten:
He had just turned ninety, nine days before. “This birthday somehow came sooner than I thought it would,” he told the German magazine Stern, which referred to him in a way that most of our own obituarists have not, as a bestsellerautor. “I had expected to be in my eighties for longer. I would say that I am a jaded man beyond most expectations, but, like everyone else, I still have hope.” 
He celebrated his birthday last Saturday in Sag Harbor, on eastern Long Island, at the home of Maria Matthiessen, the widow of Peter Matthiessen, who died last year. (“We drank together, sometimes quite a bit,” Salter wrote, in a remembrance. “We got old.”) It was a dinner for about two dozen friends, one of whom wrote me Friday night, “He looked fit and very happy in the white linen suit he only wore on special summer nights. He was sharp as a briar and very funny with his acknowledgment of all the speeches. He was particularly animated later about a gift from someone:  a 1946 edition of Melville’s Billy Budd, Foretopman. He seemed hugely optimistic that night about a bit more time on earth.” 
Less than a week later, he suffered a heart attack at the gym. It was over. The news, in its way unexpected, felt like one of those breath-stealing turns out of Light Years, his masterpiece, or All That Is, his final work.  



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