Saturday, December 31, 2016

A SPORT AND A PASTIME by James Salter

When you don't like a book by an acclaimed "writer's writer" (NYT), you wonder if you're missing something. Salter writes beautiful sentences and controls the rhythm of his prose masterfully. But I'm sorry to report that I disliked A Sport and a Pastime. The romantic lead is a spoiled, shiftless, wealthy narcissist Yale dropout at loose in the French countryside, and the narrator (who describes/imagines his friend's affair with a young French girl) is a milktoast who fancies himself a photographer and also doesn't work. The car the romantic lead drives is more fully characterized than the object of his desire; women in this world are just there to fuck (or marry). And Blacks are there to be exoticized. Both are described in stereotypical terms--her ass like two halves of an apple, the white teeth of the Black American soldier in a French nightclub. Isn't 1965--when this book was written--too late in the game even for an old (now dead) white man to be unapologetically trotting out those images? (And I must say, Salter is far too good a stylist to rely on tired language.) The bulk of the story follows (through the narrator's imaginings) the young couple as they go from one town to another and one hotel to another and have sex... and I do mean to another and another and another. It's boring. It's predictable. Nothing happens. The sex scenes are tame. Oh, mon dieu, they have anal sex! Dis donc, alors! The descriptions of France in a certain era are quite lovely and evocative, but I found this novel to be a poor cross between Fitzgerald and Hemingway (and I confess that last time I read The Great Gatsby, I didn't like it, either.)