Wednesday, November 20, 2013

All That Is, by James Salter

It's not easy to get into the swing of a piece of deep mysticism when you just set out with a story. — D.H. Lawrence, Studies in Classic American Literature
Lawrence nails every novelist's first problem—the problem, really, of the novel: "You just set out with a story."

A great novel (by this means we recognize its greatness) transcends the embarrassment of its own gossip. We listen to it as we listen to a lover: entranced. Thinking, Luminous.

Story's importance diminishes to the degree that our love for the novel's voice—it's entrancing song, if you will—increases.

As with love, we look back on a great novel both humbled and further attuned to our connectedness to others. We find ourselves reminded that we always have been everyone.

We find ourselves. Re-minded.

James Salter has written two great novels: A Sport and a Pastime and Light Years. Both novels—still—open my chest and remove my battered heart and show it to me and say, "You see? No different. The universe. Listen."

To which I reply, without embarrassment: "Yes." 

All That Is, Salter's newest novel, is not a great novel. At the level of the sentence, it's better written than just about anything being published by an American novelist these days. For that reason alone I recommend it wholeheartedly. But unlike Salter's masterpieces, it does not exceed its story. And—but for a few scenes, which are, in a manner unique to Salter, luminous—that's all it is.

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