James Salter: ‘Last Night’

James Salter has a very distinct style of writing fiction…how to describe it…precise? Minimalist? Sometimes hard to follow? He often zooms in on relationships and in the story collection Last Night, passion is important. The stories are not what you would call sexy; they are more about what happens to passion and where it gets directed in marriage and relationships. There is cheating and lying, love and regret. His characters are full of feeling, but are at times misdirected or unsure of the choices they make with their emotions. Sometimes they are entirely confident even though they are making disastrous decisions in regards to their lovers or partners.

Passion and marriage are not exactly back of mind for me at the moment. I’m passionately engaged to be married and even though there is no cheating, lying or regret in my love life, that doesn’t make it any less interesting to read about. Reading about marriage makes me wonder though, if the characters in my own stories are going to start thinking less about breakups and more about marriage. One would think you control the content of your own fiction, and of course you do, but you don’t control the ideas that come to you.

Anyone who actually reads my blog on a regular basis, you’ll know that this is a meandering discussion of reading, writing and life in general, so forgive me ahead of time if wedding planning happens to pop into my posts over the next nine months. I doubt I’ll be reading any party planning books or cheesy romances about engagement, but I also can’t promise I won’t be shame-reading a book about how to make paper flowers. (Clearly I’m not that ashamed.) If anyone has recommendations of books that really would be helpful to read while planning a wedding, let me know in the comments.

Anyway, Last Night. I especially liked “Bangkok” and “Arlington,” two very short stories. “Bangkok” is a dialogue-driven story, a moment in time when a surprise visitor forces a rush of memory of what seems like another life. “Arlington” is likewise a very short story, and it manages to encapsulate many years, love or lust briefly had and quickly lost and a life that went on, forever changed.

The book ends with the title story, a terrible story, and I don’t mean terribly written–just extremely depressing. It’s actually beautifully, enormously well written, so well that it’s unfortunately branded in my mind forevermore. Thanks, James. If you haven’t already read it in the New Yorker, I don’t want to spoil it by telling you anything.

I will leave you with a quote from the story “Give,” because I happen to be thirty-one years old. It’s about a man who is married to a woman but is having an affair with a male friend. This, about the wife: “She was just thirty-one, the age when women are past foolishness though not unfeeling.” Let’s chew on that.

Gigglers: I’m not going to seek out the newest hardcovers and tell you whether or not to buy them. And while not the Sunday Review, this Sunday blog will explore my brilliant and fascinating thoughts about books. Please use the comments section to share your own thoughts on this book, or whatever you’re reading.

Photo via Picador

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