James Salter died yesterday in Sag Harbor, N.Y, where he had resided for many years. He lived a long, eventful adventure. He was born in 1925, died at 90. He was at work on a memoir of his writing life and had published a novel in 2013, All That Is. I first encountered him through A Sport and a Pastime, a short novel published in 1967. It tells the very erotic tale of an affair between a Frenchwoman and an American expatriate. Its narrator fascinated me, as did the beauty of the sentences. They were (and are) elegant, heartbreaking, full of longing and desire and, well, almost always perfect. Here is what another great novelist, Reynolds Price, wrote about A Sport and a Pastime: “In its peculiar compound of lucid surface and dark interior, it’s as nearly perfect as any American fiction I know.”
I was in the audience at a Salter reading in Manhattan years ago and was impressed with the author’s erudition and sartorial grace. He was a dashing figure — he had been a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force, serving during the Korean War — and wore his suit with unstudied nonchalance. It was, as I recall, tan, perhaps khaki. It was summer, the streets outside sticky and hot, but he was cool and composed.
I am setting some time aside this weekend to read (again) Dusk and Other Stories, a collection published in 1988. I will remember that reading, and bid farewell to a writer’s writer who taught me much about elegance and style.