James Salter, 1925-2015
Better than anyone else, James Salter captures how living is like dreaming. Time passes and is marked through subtle movement: rolling waves, rising mist, sunlight burning through fog. His characters move to this rhythm, in a landscape of memory and shifting perception. Salter captures the way the mind works, creating stories through compositions of memory, color, and weather.
Reading Salter, I am always trying to crack a code: understand the characters, where they are in space and time, how they fit together. His writing is rich and generous, providing a vivid structure, yet giving the reader ample space to assemble the various elements he evokes. This brings art to the everyday effort of excavating meaning from experience, impression, memory, and intuition.
Like Salter’s characters, we describe our lives like tapestries, quilts, stained glass compositions of time, people, places, and images—enlivened with chords of music, lines of poetry, and sensations associated with shifting physical landscapes. Whether we are aware of it, we move in time to tides.
Salter raises the question, page after mesmerizing page, of how an essential self finds an anchor within this ever-changing schema. Posing the notion of the self as a moving target, he highlights the drama and complexity of maintaining relationships as each of us moves through the procession of time, memory, and quotidian detail.
With patience, perception, and exquisite imagery, Salter’s writing highlights the marvel or miracle that any of us match hopes and dreams while we move through the currents of this chemistry. —Rachel Greben
Rachel Greben is a staff writer. She spoke with James Salter about his final novel, All That Is, in the fall 2013 issue. This is the first in a series of pieces on Salter’s work.