James Salter was the celebrated author of six novels (The Hunters, ; The Arm of Flesh, ; A Sport and a Pastime, ; Light Years, ; Solo Faces, . A Sport and A Pastime is a seductive classic that established James Salter’s reputation as one of the finest writers of our time. It is remarkable for its eroticism, . The astonishing novel and “tour de force” about a love affair in postwar France from the iconic author of All That Is (The New York Times Book Review).
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Since its publication induring the decade of sexual revolution, A Sport and a Pastime has set the standard not only for eroticism in fiction, but for the principal organ of literature — the imagination. What appears at first to be a short, tragic novel about a love affair in France is in fact an ambitious, refractive inquiry into the nature and meaning of storytelling, and the reasons jaes are compelled to invent, in particular, romances.
That such a feat occurs across a mere pages is breathtaking, and though its narrative choreography seems simple, the novel is anything but minor.
The narrator is staying in the house of rich friends in Autun, Burgundy, idly photographing the town and trying to uncork provincial culture.
Thwarted in his own sexual yearning, he becomes obsessed with the relationship between his fellow guest, a nomadic American dropout, Philip Dean, and a local girl, Anne-Marie.
Our narrator is the perfect voyeur, entirely suited to observation and vicariousness, and although not directly engaged in a menage a trois, his agency is crucial. One cannot introduce the work of James Salter without mentioning his unmistakable prose. By pastkme, his third novel, he had become the greatest stylist of any contemporary writer. There are sentences so precise, so abrupt and absolute, they almost defeat style, like literary pointillism.
His evocations are jamea intricately faceted and vastly dimensional — a France of weather and architecture, history, flavour inhabited by characters as familiar, contrary, seasoned and unknowable as any human can be. This blue, indolent town.
The empty sky of morning, drained saltsr pure. Its deep cloven streets. Its narrow courts, the faint rotten odour within, jmaes peels lying in the corners. Sometimes he is depressed by her imperfections. They should not be important, perhaps, but they often become so real, so ready to take control of her, these plain qualities hidden by the brilliance of a language and life the taste of which he has only just begun to grasp.
He waits for her to put on her coat. She avoids his eyes.
Material, craft, and affect: Every sentence seems exactly right, each proposal true. The conceit of a work of fiction is to hide its mechanisms, to simulate, to suspend, even if it plays tricks with exposure and the seductiveness of words. The reader must be willingly transported into the believable unreal, as here the narrator is transported, via the erogenous imagination, deep into the heart of carnality and blinding emotion. Though Anne-Marie is the object of his desire and the subject of his incandescent, burning dreams, it is Dean he fixates upon.
Dean is the sexual avatar, confident and entitled. He arrives at the house in Autun as heroes do, with ragged elan.
We come to ja,es his body thoroughly, as an attentive partner might. There are sublimated notes of homoeroticism in the text, jealousies and elaborations. Even as he contemplates the eligible divorcees of the town for his own satisfactions, he remains passive, perhaps neuter, a receptor for the lust of others. Their power differential is stark and paves the course for the obsession.
He is an inhabitant. Dean takes a lover without promise or reciprocity; he takes her for whatever he can get now, like a colonial. But who is Anne-Marie? Dport is youth, if not innocence. The slightest movement and an entirely different brilliance appears. She will be educated and will experiment with technique and methods, both painful and pleasurable; she will be walter, used, abandoned, as she will also be gloried in, raised up as a goddess, immortalised.
And this transaction is, of course, the truth about sexual love. The labels stick and then peel off. Lovers are cruel and selfish, as well as generous pastimw collaborative; they are imbalanced emotionally even if they match physically.
Salter understood what lies beneath housebroken relations and rules: He understood the deregulation of encounter and exchange — beginnings and endings, potency and vulnerability, the construction of a union and its breaking points, moments of genuine affection and failure of spprt.
In this brutal and beautiful novel, nothing is reconstituted to save our feelings.
Students of literary passion owe the author a huge debt. Nor are the mechanics of sex immune from attachments. How compulsive salfer how fascinating.
James Salter: A Sport and a Pastime (Video ) – IMDb
Though impotent, the narrator details everything, lays it bare. He activates the grand romance that Dean himself seems incapable of. Or Dean is the alter ego, pawtime permission, enabling wish-fulfilment of the constrained libido. In this domain, we have so many selves. Certainly the narrator is our registrar — without him nothing of the relationship is notarised; nothing can really exist.
Her expectations of marriage are foolish and perfectly reasonable. Dean is callow and handsome, he stimulates and elates his lover, but he is terrified of the consequences, responsibilities, babies. He fails to respect France and her regulations, and he calculates, on a base level, that money and happiness are bedfellows.
But what is love, the novel asks? What can it be, beyond temporal, beyond other? A thing unreal to our selves, frigid under our own hands, lambent only when dreamed?
A Sport and a Pastime
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