Saturday, December 31, 2016


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.)


Neglected blog. Summary post for my records.

Books read last summer:

  • The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis
  • A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
  • Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
  • Night at the Fiestas by Kirstin Valdez Quade 
  • a couple of other titles, but I can't remember what

There wasn't a dud in the bunch, but standouts included Citizen; A Manual for Cleaning Women; The Sympathizer and Barbarian Days. 

I read Citizen twice... Rankine's prose-poems form a polemic on being Black in white America... poignant content in a compelling, unusual form.

Barbarian Days, New Yorker writer Finnegan's surf memoir was a quintessential summer read for me, as someone who loves the ocean, traveling and stellar writing.

And The Sympathizer was my favorite book of the year, about a Vietnamese double-agent at the end of the Vietnam War, who has to flee to the States--part spy thriller, part history, part great American immigrant novel, all beautifully written and constructed, and a page turner, to boot.