Collected Stories

James Salter

Collected Stories
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Collected Stories

James Salter

The collected stories of an American master, with a new introduction by John Banville.

James Salter is one of the finest writers of our time. From his first published story in the Paris Review in 1968, Salter’s work in the form has been universally acclaimed: five have appeared in O. Henry collections, Dusk and Other Stories won the 1989 PEN/Faulkner Award, and more recently he was the recipient of PEN USA’s 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2010 REA Prize for the short story, and the 2012 PEN/Malamud Award.

Each indelible narrative in the Collected Stories is marked by Salter’s great literary grace, his ability to show the subtleties of a character or situation with precision, and his equally assured ability to command reversals of fortune or shocking revelations.

The stories concern men and women in their most intimate moments, struggling with loss, desire, or the burden of memory. A fallen rider lies in a field, alone but for the knowledge that these may be her last twenty minutes. A man assisting in his wife’s suicide is devastated by the aftermath. Two New York attorneys on a trip to Italy discover that their recent wealth affords them the possibility of a higher life, the reality of which is somewhat sordid. A young woman is unable to share a life-changing piece of news with her closest friends.

Review

James Salter is a deeply satisfying combination of raw power and finetuned precision. He writes stories that are never content to rest at perfection – they push and shove for more. Writers are often described as elegant and polished as though that were the epitome of literary art, but the ugly and ragged are just as vital for a genuine reflection of life. And the Collected Stories of James Salter do indeed reflect the long and varied life of a man who has been a fighter pilot for the US Air Force, a Hollywood screenwriter and a mountain climber.

Running through almost everything Salter has written is sexual passion. It’s a particular sense of vitality that animates his writing in the same way as with the works of D.H. Lawrence, Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin. In most fiction, the sexual life is often seen as an experience of encounters. Yet in Salter’s stories, we are more likely to discover long relationships that are examined or informed through sexuality, and the ways in which it waxes and wanes. While this might provide frisson in an otherwise flat story, there’s also an implacable sense of hunger for life that it gives each of his characters. It’s rare for sex to be merely erotic in Salter’s work, and it’s never prurient.

Collected Stories *is a book that brings together Salter’s two collections, *Dusk and Other Stories and Last Night, plus one other piece. It’s sometimes an uneasy mix and a Selected Stories might have been a more welcome option to a reader encountering Salter for the first time. However, you can rest assured that despite a few poor examples there are undeniable masterpieces of the short form to be found in what is a deeply rewarding book.


A.S. Patrić is from Readings St Kilda. His latest book is Las Vegas for Vegans.

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