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All That Is Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 2, 2013

3.4 out of 5 stars 322 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, April 2013: By starting the life story of Phillip Bowman in the last days of World War II, Salter sets the tone for the rest of this remarkable book. “The outcome of great battles could hinge on resolve,” he writes, and Bowman is all about resolve. But beneath the deceptively straightforward coming-of-age and growing-old narrative--boy meets girl, loses girl; meets, loses; meets, loses--lurks the deeply personal story of what it meant to be a 20th century man. Bowman is the archetype of the flawed, ambitious, lust-filled American male. He’s Don Draper. He’s Rabbit Angstrom. He’s your dad. He’s my dad. (Also named Phil; also from New Jersey.) What’s truly astounding here is the writing, from a master who happens to be an octogenarian. Salter crafts beautiful sentences. He creates characters, lives, entire worlds in just a page or two. He’s also capable of some blushingly evocative sex scenes--again, impressive for a man approaching 90. Profound and lush, this is a book to savor. It’s the sweeping story of a complicated, error-filled, fully wrung-out life. A guy’s life. A good life. --Neal Thompson

From Booklist

For decades, Salter has been an artistic standard-bearer. His first novel in many years begins percussively in 1944 with the unrelenting battles in the Pacific. Naval officer Philip Bowman, virginal and close to his mother, makes it safely home, moves to New York, and finds professional contentment as an editor at a small publisher. Even though he falls hard for Vivian, a wealthy southerner, he remains hermetically sealed. Their marriage fizzles quickly, and Bowman is smitten again, but he never gets it right. His obliviousness to women’s inner lives leads to a shocking betrayal, and his crueler revenge. Still, this is a desultory, oddly slippery novel as Salter slides back and forward in time, glides into the lives of other characters, and considers the decline of the novel. The many sex scenes are doleful; the pegs to world events wobbly. Yet resonant passages bloom, including one that captures the book’s subdued spirit: “The landscape was beautiful but passive. The emptiness of things rose like the sound of a choir making the sky bluer and more vast.” --Donna Seaman

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (April 2, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400043131
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400043132
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 1.1 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (322 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #423,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Gregory Zimmerman on April 2, 2013
Format: Hardcover
Until a month ago, I'd never read James Salter -- which, now, after reading two of his novels, including his first novel in 34 years, All That Is, which is out today (April 2nd), seems like a cryin' shame. Salter is often mentioned in the breath just after American masters like Philip Roth, John Updike, and Norman Mailer -- and after reading him, I don't understand why he doesn't get his due.

What All That Is is is wonderful! (Using the word "is" three times in a row? Check. I can die now.) It's a celebration of being alive -- which sounds cliché, until you see how Salter manages to capture such a range of human experience in a tiny, 300-page novel. Life is a continuous cycle of love and loss, everyone deals with these differently, and truly, everyone is unique.

Salter's novel is told mainly through the eyes of Philip Bowman, a World War II veteran who spends the mid-20th century as a book editor in New York City. We follow Bowman through a marriage and several other affairs of the heart -- each meaningful to him in a different way. The plot of the novel really picks up steam in the second half, when Salter really begins to plumb the depths of Bowman's character. We have to decide whether, despite his flaws, we like him. It's turns out to be quite the tricky decision.

Salter also gives us mini-"profiles" of minor characters throughout the novel -- again just to illustrate how quirky we all are. And there a several sort of set pieces that lay groundwork thematically for later events. Normally, these would feel like unnecessary digressions, but Salter writes so beautifully, so elegantly, you're willing to follow him anywhere.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
There is much to admire in "All That Is"--beautiful writing, epic story-telling that takes place over several continents and the better part of the twentieth century. James Salter is at times dazzling as he tells the stories of his characters, weaving them into the much larger life and times in which they live. In the opening pages he immediately grounds the reader with a vivid portrayal of his strong, admirable protagonist Phillip Bowman during a World War II battle in the Pacific. Over the course of the novel, he creates beautiful scenes of the post-war United States, the mid-century publishing world and the lives of those who are part of it. With an economy of words, he creates marvelously vivid descriptions. The reader follows young Bowman home from the war, on to Harvard and a successful career at a small, literary publishing house in New York with periodic trips to Europe. Bowman's world is filled with wealthy, intellectual, attractive individuals, many of whom have their lives developed in small vignettes.

And yet, for me, it was not an engaging novel. I found it difficult to follow the progression of time. In one chapter, unless I missed something earlier, the clarification came in the last sentence, "The president had been shot in Dallas." Then, at the end of the next chapter: "The New Year. 1969." Wait, five years elapsed between chapters? I was bothered by the frequent shifts in point of view, sometimes between paragraphs and some mini-stories that seemed to wander. After so many beautiful women and trips to Europe, by the end, I was ready to bid Bowman farewell.
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Format: Hardcover
A major literary event.

That's the phrase for any novel by James Salter, and especially "All That Is." First, because Salter is known in the trade as a "writer's writer" --- underappreciated by the public but revered by those in the know. Then, because this is his first full-length novel since 1979. And, not least, because he is now 87 and by any sane measure it's likely that "All That Is" will be all there is --- his final book.

Regular readers of this site know that I have been an admirer of Salter's work ever since I read A Sport and a Pastime and Light Years as a pup, and that I have had the privilege of knowing Salter for three decades. The length of our friendship and his four score and seven years seem like fiction; for me, my friends are always the age they were when I met them. So I have trouble with the valedictory tone that's more or less expected in any assessment of "All That Is." In my head, I see Salter at his desk, surrounded by notebooks, turning words this way and that, struggling to write not his final book but his best one.

But "All That Is" does invite us to read it as a summing up. It has that heft: 300 pages, for Salter a thick book indeed. In form, the novel is surprisingly traditional. Salter, known for books that are short and terse because his sentences seem more carved than written, follows Philip Bowman, a smart, sensitive World War II vet who stumbles into the book business and has a long, almost distinguished career as an editor.

Publishing, even in New York, does not lend itself to heroics; Bowman "liked to read with the silence and the golden color of the whiskey as his companions. He liked food, people, talk, but reading was an inexhaustible pleasure." I'm down with that, but I live in New York, I've known that man.
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