grist

 

Saturday, February 25, 2006
Backlog #1: The James Salter Reading Festival continues.

I read Salter's autobiography Burning the Days. He says, in his Preface, that he is writing about people and events that were important to him--what he remembers, noting that memory is a measure of the value of things (and forgetting is as well). Beginning with the now-ad-nauseum caveat that he is a beautiful writer, I finished the book very struck by what had been omitted from his narrative. He spends rhapsodic pages talking about coming out to hangars in the morning for flights (he spent 15 years as a fighter pilot), and equally long (lovely, lyrical)pages about his mistresses, but almost none about his wife (selected for him, it seems, by a married woman he loved, because she presented no threat). He does say, twice, that it is impossible to write about the death of a child, but there were two others and they appear almost not at all. And I was struck that there was so little about books--so few that seemed to have landed and shaped his own thinking, his writing and writing life--except in the context of envy. And there was an undercurrent of him actively seeking out celebrity, of a kind of hungry networking that ran against the confidence of his voice, as if he were obscuring some aspect of himself behind his talents for self-expression.

In his defense (if he needs it at all), he writes well about friendship--and indeed this is mostly a chronicle of loves and friends, and his honesty on those fronts can be very moving. But I came out of the book finding him both alien and unsympathetic, and seeing a new coldness in his sharp prose. I am contintuing to read his fiction (Dusk, currently, as well as A Sport and a Pastime), and will be interested to see how altered my opinion of him becomes as result of reading this. (two stars)

The true chronicler of my life, a tall, soft-looking man with watery eyes, came up to me at the gathering and said, as if he had been waiting a long time to tell me, that he knew everything. I had never seen him before.



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