"As nearly perfect as any American fiction I know," is how Reynolds Price (The New York Times) described this classic that has been a favorite of readers, both here and in Europe, for almost forty years. Set in provincial France in the 1960s, it is the intensely carnal story - part shocking reality, part feverish dream - of a love affair between a footloose Yale dropout and a young French girl. There is the seen and the unseen - and pages that burn with a rare intensity.
©1967 James Salter (P)2013 Audible Inc.
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Chris Crowley, author of "Younger Next Year," was a friend of James Salter and wrote a moving tribute to him. Having never heard of Salter--despite his many critical accolades--I decided to get a few of his books. "A Sport and a Pastime" was supposedly Salter's personal favorite and his view of a perfect novel.
The book was disappointing to me. Salter can describe a scene and craft a sentence as well as anyone. He can certainly set a mood. But there is no real story here: Spoiled son of a critic meets attractive young French woman. He has no work or no productive life. He borrows a fancy car and and money from his family and he and the girl go off to French towns on weekends and they have a lot of sex. There's really nothing more to it.
There is no hero. There is no moral. From what I can tell, there is no point. The story is told in the third person by a friend of the male protagonist who somehow is able to relate the protagonist's sex life with the young woman. We are not sure (as we are told) if it is real or fantasy. The narrator--apparently on some vague sort of photography assignment--adds a positively creepy element that serves no apparent purpose.
I'm sure the sex in the book was sensational when it was written, but today it comes across as a crutch because of the lack of a story: Well, they've gone to dinner again, so they have to have more sex.
If this was Salter's idea of the "Great American Novel," it may explain why he never gained much of a popular following. I'm sorry to be harsh, but if I could get the time back, I simply would not bother with this one.
"Not well suited to listening"
I disliked this book from the start. It is not the fault of the narrator that he cannot speak French. Either you can or you can't. It is the fault of the producer for selecting a narrator who was ill-suited to the book. I learned about the book in the authors obituary, but I will not be buying others.
"Beautiful writing, plot failed to engage"
An argument can be made that Salter was one of the greatest stylist in the English language. The words flow vividly and eloquently. But no matter how beautiful the words, if the plot and people aren't intriguing -- heck, forget intriguing, if they aren't interesting -- the listening experience is, well, not a good one.
Ideally, one loses oneself in the narrative and the next thing you know, the story's over. Well, with this book, I had to force myself to listen to the end.
"Grace, lust and melancholy"
South of France, late 50s…Imagine Dean, a young man a young man dropout of a prestigious university (I immediately thought of James Dean), meeting Marie, a young woman (think of Jean Seberg ) who works as a clerk in a small company. He is rich, reckless, charming and a daydreamer. Drives a luxurious cabriolet, but lives on borrowed money. She is quiet, low profile, modest and passionate. They meet, make love, and travel all over France in his borrowed car. Theirs is affection with sex, probably not love; complicity without true communication, melancholy without dreams. All along there is a lingering sense of disaster inevitably approaching.
James Salter is a wonderful writer: his prose is elegant and delicate and the characters are beautifully sketched out. The sex scenes are explicitly described, but Dean and Marie feelings are portrayed in a fuzzy, tentative way as they were a distant dream. The sense of the passing time –that is so present in all his books- and the magnificent atmosphere of the changing seasons in South of France are a wonderful background to the story.
A great book of a superb author.
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