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Light Years Paperback – January 31, 1995

119 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


“Extraordinary . . . at once tender, exultant, unabashedly sexual, sensual, and profoundly sad. Light Years is a masterpiece.”
—Elizabeth Benedict, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Remarkable. . . . Salter celebrates the silver-and-golden bitterness of life. Light Years . . . becomes an unexpectedly moving ode to beautiful lives frayed by time.”
—James Wolcott, Esquire
“[A] twentieth-century masterpiece. At once iridescent, lyrical, mystical and magnetic.”
Bloomsbury Review
“An absolutely beautiful, monstrous, important book.”
—Joy Williams

From the Inside Flap

This exquisite, resonant novel is a brilliant portrait of marriage by a contemporary American master. Even as he lingers over the lustrous surface of Viri and Nedra's marriage, James Salter makes us see the cracks that are spreading through it, flaws that will in time mar it beyond repair. "An unexpectedly moving ode to beautiful lives frayed by time."

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reissue edition (January 31, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780679740735
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679740735
  • ASIN: 0679740732
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (119 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #33,359 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

James Salter (b. 1925) was a novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter. Salter grew up in New York City and was a career officer and Air Force pilot until his mid-thirties, when the success of his first novel (The Hunters, 1957) led to a fulltime writing career. Salter's potent, lyrical prose has earned him acclaim from critics, readers, and fellow novelists. His novel A Sport and a Pastime (1967) was hailed by the New York Times as "nearly perfect as any American fiction."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

101 of 111 people found the following review helpful By taking a rest HALL OF FAME on February 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
The courage to live life as it changes, as the faults that went unseen in the initial rush of novelty emerge, to adapt, continue and be happy, content, this I believe is the heart of this work. The small imperfections that erode to fatal flaws as the years pass, the union of marriage that grows old, and regret and a desire for something new becomes an obsession. And if the freedom is regained can it ever be as it was anticipated. How can anything desired for years, embellished and romanticized for decades ever deliver contentment?
The marriage of Nedra and Viri act more like a parenthetical that contains the entire novel and its events, than they serve as the focal point. The dozens of friends on almost as many levels of intimacy all revolve around the married couple, the former couple, or the individuals they believe they become for a second time. Is contentment the equivalent of stagnation; is it predestined for most, or voluntary for the few?
Mr. Salter continues in, "Light Years", what he has done in all 3 of the novels I have read thus far. The people he creates transcend whatever story he presents them in. The personalities he creates are wonderful not because they entertain with their uniqueness or their contrived eccentricities, but because of how normal they are, or perhaps familiar. This is not to suggest they are cliché, they are everything but that, they are people you know, people you may meet, or a character that you find a part of you is within.
One of the beauties of what this man is capable of with his writing is reaching very deeply into the thoughts and fears that inhabit almost all of us. He does not presume, he does not judge or lecture, he just lets you look through your minds eye, and decide for yourself.
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Eric Treanor on August 26, 2010
Format: Paperback
I can still remember a time when drinking was an unmitigated delight. Rightly or wrongly, I felt freed by it of my worst qualities: humorlessness, abject obedience to authority, a fascination with judgment, morbid self-control.

Drinking, I became less narrow. I became, for myself, finally, unpredictable. At the age of twenty-nine, I had found a path into the open meadow, or the great teeming city, of life.

Let me put that another way: suddenly, for the first time, I was having fun being an adult.

It was around that time that I read Under the Volcano. I loved the book and I liked to read passages from it aloud.

But I didn't understand it. In addition to its exotic locale, it described an exotic experience: alcohol as an act of suicide. Alcohol as a flight not to life but from it.

If I were to read Under the Volcano today, it would not be the same book. (Re-read books are never the same, which is why there is no such thing as re-reading.) Lowry would now be describing an experience that has become a possibility, perhaps even an inevitability--an experience that, however faintly (or probably not very faintly) I now recognize.

So too does Light Years, by James Salter, a book I've just finished and which has shaken me as few works of art ever have.

Its account of the beauty of marriage, and of its pleasures, and of its terrible and insidious forms of loneliness, would have once been incomprehensible to me. I suppose I would have recognized--but without nostalgia, which makes recognition matter--its account of marriage as a form of refuge. And as a sight of sudden, permanent moments of beauty.
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36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By headbutler on August 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
The main characters are named Viri and Nedra, and Lord knows that signals "pretentious." Ignore all that. No one writes about what happens between men and women better than Salter; you can see your own relationships in the 308 pages it takes to track the glory and fall of this marriage between an architect and his thin, troubled wife. And the sense of place! Here he is on the lure the Hamptons held for Nedra: "She was a creature of blue, flawless days, the sun of their noons hot as the African coast, the chill of the nights immense and clear." I started the book in that place on a morning so grey the sky and ocean merged; I read through the rain; I finished at night. A day well spent.
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38 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 24, 1996
Format: Paperback
James Salter takes you so deeply inside the marriage of Nedra and Viri that you know these people as well as your own family before the book is done. It is a heartbreaking portrayl of love that turns to mere companionship. The beautiful wife, Nedra, seeks soemthing she cannot attain from her husband, nor from her affairs, nor from fleeing to Europe. She stands as one of the most completely-drawn women in American ficiton, a modern Madame Bovary. As the husband and wife grow apart, their children become aloof, the house they create falls into disrepair. It is the most accurate portrayl of the joys and sadness of modern marriage that I have read
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Cortland Kirkeby on August 31, 2006
Format: Paperback
. . . enjoys being seduced by an environment created by a writing style that artfully explores a soft nether region where poetry leaves off and prose kicks in.

What is it about this book that, on the whole, captivates and fascinates even though none of the component parts seem distinguishable?

The story line and character development are certainly thin. I still don't have any evidence why Nedra is "all that." It's just a given. And who are these folks anyway? I don't think any of them shop at Walmart, fret over gas prices or worry about being backstabbed at work. Getting divorced? Moving to Europe? No problem. Plenty of mystery money to pay for everything.

And so many abrupt surprises: Poof, someone dies. Poof, two people fall into bed. Poof, they're divorced. Maybe Maslow was right - freedom from financial worry apparently leaves more room for social acceptance anxiety.

But how to resist such a seductive and ideal world so well shielded from hardship - the kind of world easy to imagine while reading fiction offerings from Harpers or the New Yorker. Everyone is comfortably well off, drinking fine wine, telling tales of beautiful vacations, finding willing partners to fall into bed with. Even when sex is temporarily unavailable, the food, the quality of conversation and the backdrop scenery are incredible - and paid for.

Best of all, this ideal world is created with remarkably few words. Each word or phrase resembles a little dot, carefully written and placed. Once they are all connected in the imagination, the reader is immersed in that special world.

Too bad the book can't just go on forever, or be turned into a 10+ episode PBS mini-series a la Brideshead Revisited or even 17 volumes worth of "Master and Commander." Perhaps that's just another evidence of success, leaving just a little hungry or thirsty, wondering if one more fragment lies just around the corner.
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