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Last Night Paperback – March 14, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Teetering marriages, collapsing relationships and other calamities of the heart drive these 10 compact, unsettling stories by respected writer Salter (A Sport and a Pastime, etc.). The title story is especially impressive—when Walter Much and his seriously ill wife, Marit, agree that he will assist in her suicide, Marit insists that Susanna, a mutual friend, come over to keep them company in her final moments. Nothing goes as planned, however, and Walter's double betrayal of his wife ushers in the haunting conclusion. The reunion stories are equally compelling: in "Palm Court," a man who initially failed to marry the love of his life meets her years later after her divorce only to find himself overwhelmed and distraught by the mixed feelings she rouses in him. "Bangkok" offers a different take on the reunion angle, as a woman tries to tempt an old flame into joining her and her female traveling companion on a sexually adventurous, last-second trip to the Far East, despite his being happily married and claiming to be satisfied with his sedate, settled life. The reserved, elegiac nature of Salter's prose and his mannered, well-bred characters lend the collection a distanced tone, but at their best these are stirring stories, worthy additions to a formidable body of work.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Critics call novelist and short-story writer Salter a writer’s writer. These stories (some previously published in Esquire and The New Yorker) also confirm that he’s "a reader’s writer" in his exploration of universal themes (Rocky Mountain News). Reviewers unanimously applaud Salter’s gleaming, precise prose and haunting retrospection, which reinforce complex and sophisticated characters and themes. "You can practically smell the cigarette smoke and hear the booze-scratched timbre of Salter’s characters’ voices," notes the San Francisco Chronicle. Despite his characters’ dubious exploits—they drink, sin, and tempt others—they occupy an emotional, ambiguous middle ground. A few stories seem truncated, and various points of view within individual stories caused some confusion. But Last Night is as good as any place to start to appreciate Salter’s genius.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1 edition (March 14, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400078415
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400078417
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #199,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

James Salter is a candidate for the best writer today.
T. Berner
Each time I read it I see something new in the way Salter economically but skilfully tells us important things about his characters.
Cynthia D. Park
He is a master of writing spare, perfect prose, with superbly drawn concise sentences.
Paige Turner

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Jesse Kornbluth TOP 500 REVIEWER on February 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
You could say about this collection: "These aren't stories, they're sketches." And you'd have a point. But the thing about Salter is that he shows you only what's needed, then invites you to imagine the rest. This was true in his 1967 novel, A Sport and a Pastime. Almost 40 years later, it still is. When I think of Salter, I'm reminded of John Updike's remark, "A psychoanalyst talking is like playing golf on the moon --- even a chip shot carries for miles." Salter hits chip shots.

Many will find this writing overly mannered. Yes, there are crumpled napkins on tables uncleared from last night's dinner party: "glasses still with dark remnant on them, coffee stains, and plates with bits of hardened Brie." Privileged women pine for love -- or sex. At a man's funeral, there are women the widow has never seen before. A married man is having an affair with a male friend. A hill is made from a pile of junked cars. A romantic opportunity is missed.

Salter is too discreet to shove the engine room of life into our faces, but it's very much there. One story ends with a woman dying of cancer --- a young woman. Another focuses on an older woman on what is to be the final night of her life: "She had a face now that was for the afterlife and those she would meet there." The sentences drop, regular as coins. Salter's cadences are so hypnotic it's easy to miss them. But they are arrows to the real subject of these stories, which are, like the best stories about adult men and women, about honor and love in the face of death.

"Last Night." 132 pages. Ten stories. They may read like trifles, like exercises, like parlor tricks --- but you can't forget them. Could it be because they are small masterpieces?
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46 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Dangle's girl on May 5, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Perhaps somewhere out there in America there are people who live like characters in James Salter novels, but I sincerely hope not. These are unpleasant, haunted and pathological people, and it is Salter's genius that you not only want to spend time with these sociopaths, but want to take them home, hand them a few drinks and listen to them talk. Salter's gift is as adamantine as ever in "Last Night," but unlike in his earlier classics like "Sport and a Pastime" and "Light Years," the erotic edge has been dulled by age and regret. None of the stories has an obvious beginning, end or `dramatic arc,' and the collection is much more interesting for that. Highly recommended for anyone who has stopped believing in happy endings.
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24 of 28 people found the following review helpful By H. F. Corbin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 1, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
These ten stories are simply perfect and therefore pretty much impossible to describe. From "Last Night" with its beautifully ambiguous title, the first story I read, to "Platinum," the last one I read, there is not one superfluous word in Mr. Salter's elegant prose. He can describe a person or place with a word or two; or when he's being long-winded, he may need a complete sentence. A retarded six-year old swimming in a pond has an anxious face "above the surface like a dog's." A dog is simply "yellow-eyed." A woman who is past 40 had "only her personality and good nature by that time, the rest, as she herself would say, had turned into a size fourteen." Another woman's only fault is that she didn't like to cook. "She couldn't cook and talk at the same time." Although many of Mr. Salter's characters are upper middleclass, they don't appear to be much better off than the rest of us. They just meet in nicer hotels to commit their adulteries. Some of them lead lives of quiet desperation. Mr. Salter is also the master of understated irony. For example, in "Last Night," arguably the best story in this small collection, a terminally ill woman plans her suicide with assistance from her husband and invites a young woman, "a family friend," to dine with her and her husband for her last supper. This quiet little story, as Garrison Keillor would say, will blow your head off.

Short stories do not get better than these.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Roger Brunyate TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 22, 2006
Format: Paperback
All these stories concern romantic relationships told in a double time-frame, in which events in the present trigger memories of the past. All are incredibly spare and powerful, with characters, atmosphere, an entire affair evoked by a single concrete detail or turn of phrase. Many have no plot, with the suspense of the story created entirely by the manner in which the author reveals the facts, by what he leaves unsaid as much as by what he writes. In a very few instances, the author's manipulation is just a little too obvious, in a O. Henry sort of way. But these are the exceptions, and even they are utterly gripping. Some stories look back on happiness squandered or simply lost; the general tone is one of regret. But against this, in several tales, there is the older-but-wiser ability to find contentment in some relationship that may be less spectacular, but can stand the test of time. Other readers have commented on the similarity between the stories in this collection, but to me this gives them an accumulated strength akin to a theme-and-variations structure in music.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Reader / Listener on July 22, 2005
Format: Hardcover
If you like the works of James Salter, this slim volume will only add to one's appreciation of the brilliance of his work.

One can relate easily to many of the flawed characters he so beautifully and concisely describes. We know them. Similar people have been in all of our lives. On the other hand, the situations in which he has placed his characters are quite unlike those that most of us have experienced (or will experience). And that is how and why we read him with such astonishment. The sum total of these wonderful stories reminds me of a poem I read long ago:

You trounced on me with ill-

concealed pleasure

Now, I too, have learned offensive

defense and some techniques

of my own

Smile beloved - now we can play

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