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All That Is: A Novel (Vintage International) Paperback – January 28, 2014
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“A crowning achievement. . . . If there were a Mount Rushmore for writers, [Salter] would be there already.”
—The New York Times Book Review
“Magnificent. . . . A major literary event. . . . Salter, who has the gift of writing sentences that exactly reproduce what we feel and think in the moment we feel and think it, moves beyond that incomparable skill and does something even more difficult: He gives us his heart.”
—The Huffington Post
“Magical . . . A plaintive, impressionistic look at how we live in time.”
—The Washington Post
“Vividly sketched. . . . Salter’s surprising, striking grace is there in every scene. . . . Breathtaking.”
“Intimate, rueful and finely observed.”
“A writer of tremendous ability. . . . An absolute stunner.”
—The Christian Science Monitor
“Shimmering. . . . Intoxicating. . . . Few can match Salter’s depictions of life’s physical pleasures, the sheer sensual delight of being in this world. . . . All That Is will last.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Exquisite. . . . A mature, unsentimental story of one man’s restless search for love. . . . [Salter] captures the angst of the privileged classes who seem to have all anyone could desire and yet long for something that lies just out of reach. . . . Effortlessly beautiful.”
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“The best novel I’ve read in years. All That Is will be treasured by its readers. Salter’s vivid, lucid prose does exquisite justice to his subject—the relentless struggle to make good on our own humanity. Once again he has delivered to us a novel of the highest artistry.”
“A much-anticipated occasion. . . . The book feels very true, even if the lives of the characters are quite different from our own.”
—The Seattle Times
“A sexy, bittersweet story.”
—Los Angeles Times
“Striking. . . . Seamless. . . . Beautifully done.”
—Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
“[Salter is] one of the finest prose stylists and most enviable American writers of the last half century. . . . [All That Is is] the capstone of his half-century-long career.”
—GQ “Read of the Month”
“A consistently elegant and enjoyable novel, full of verve and wisdom.” —Julian Barnes
“Fantastic. . . . A brilliant indictment of love, even as it revels in its sensual transports.” —Slate
“Salter [is] looking like the last exponent of a particular strain of 20th-century American fiction, deeply informed by the aspirations of postwar America. . . . He stands poised for a victory lap.”
—The Village Voice
“A sad, hopeful work that beautifully evokes the pleasures and disappointments of a life lived in books, relationships, America.”
“Salter has been called ‘The Master’. . . . Bowman’s life, like Salter’s, coincides almost perfectly with the rise of American power and the brief, golden era of publishing. All That Is is not only the story of Bowman’s life but also of almost every life with which his intersects.”
“This masterpiece is a smooth, absorbing narrative studded with bright particulars. If God is in the details, this book is divine.”
“Salter is a brilliant writer. . . . [All That Is is a] journey led by a true master of the written word. . . . Intensely beautiful.”
“You come away from [Salter’s] work wondering if you should have lived more, even if living more, in his work, often leads to ruin.”
—The New Yorker
“Salter is par excellence the explorer of depths, a diver seeking the hidden, vital wellsprings of our consciousness. . . . [He’s] done as much as any American writer to give us the sense of what it actually feels like to be alive and gripped by the fever of existence.”
—The Dallas Morning News
About the Author
James Salter is the author of numerous books, including the novels All That Is, Solo Faces, Light Years, A Sport and a Pastime, The Arm of Flesh (revised as Cassada), and The Hunters; the memoirs Gods of Tin and Burning the Days; the collections Dusk and Other Stories, which won the 1989 PEN/Faulkner Award, and Last Night, which won the Rea Award for the Short Story and the PEN/Malamud Award; and Life Is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days, written with Kay Salter. James Salter died in 2015.
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The protagonist is Philip Bowman, and the book opens in the Pacific Ocean, towards the end of World War II, as the Americans were preparing to invade Okinawa. Only one chapter is on the war; soon, via a shameless story, he had gained admission to Harvard. Upon graduation, he seeks a job with the New York Times. He meets with an august “power broker” who is arrogant and dismissive. One has to think that the scene was largely autobiographical, and although a very minor scene, the insult had to rankle all those many years later.
He does secure a position with a small but upscale publishing house, and the literary world will be his career, much to the reader’s benefit. Numerous references and stories about literary greats, and this novel has pushed me to finally read Lorca. Serendipity leads to a marriage with a young woman from Virginia horse country, which the reader learns was originally established by the Mellon’s. Part of the legacy he has married into is an alcoholic mother-in-law and a stern, philandering father-in-law that has tastes for women half his age. It is a scathing portrait of an incestuous in-grown society, with a “do not talk” code of conduct.
A doomed marriage that does not last. At least half the novel is his seeming drift from one semi-permanent female relationship to the next, all of which are quite different. There are several significant minor characters, each also plodding through jobs for economic security as well as their relationships with the other sex. I found the novel rather fast-paced, with some surprising twists and turns. Again, and yet again Salter provides deep insights into motivation and character of a spectrum of people that a younger man – certainly myself – were utterly oblivious too as I was growing up.
The author includes a memorable critique of what has occurred in the publishing industry in his lifetime: “The power of the novel in the nation’s culture has weakened. It had happened gradually. It was something everyone recognized and ignored. All went on as before, that was the beauty of it. The glory had faded but fresh faces kept appearing, wanting to be part of it, to be in publishing which had retained a suggestion of elegance like a pair of beautiful, bone-shined shoes owned by a bankrupt man.” 5-stars.
My copy of this book is a sea of highlights: fascinating descriptions, intriguing observations, and, frequently, just a neat turn of phrase that I liked the sound of. I think the last time I left a book so smeared with highlights was the last time I read a book by E.M. Forster. Salter's skill with a pen definitely makes him deserve the company, although I would say that Salter's style has a slightly more mid-to-late-20th century feel to it. There are passages in All That Is that could come straight out of a Salinger novel or a Raymond Carver story, and I can think of no higher praise than that. It makes me ashamed that until this book was released, I had never heard of James Salter.
I suppose that isn't so far-fetched, given that it had been thirty-five years since Salter's last novel. I wasn't even born yet. But in that time he did release two volumes of short stories, one volume of poetry, a collection of travel essays, and a book about food (the last one written with his wife). So the book nerd in me does feel a wee bit chastened. Mostly, though, I feel relieved that I did find him. There's a joy in discovering someone who can write so well that their talent alone thrills you as you read.
The problem is that the thrill of Salter's writing is the only thrill to be found here. For long stretches of time it feels like the narrative is going nowhere. Yes, the writer is skilled enough to keep you going, but there were countless times during the process that I found myself wondering where, exactly, the destination was, and when we might finally get there. It dangerously toes the line of plodding, and in some cases I would argue that it goes over. Even if only by a hair's breadth. Part of me feels bad criticizing this, since it seems to be a goal of Salter's to revel in the quotidian details of Philip Bowman's life. After all, the quotidian is what we spend a great deal of time on in our own lives. Which may just make it the essence of life. Whether or not you want to read about it or escape from it in your reading time is a decision only you can make.
Characters come and go, sometimes all too briefly. Some get a short glance while others step into the spotlight. Again, this is meant to mirror everyday life. In his 1997 memoir Salter notes: "If you can think of life, for a moment, as a large house with a nursery, living and dining rooms, bedrooms, study, and so forth, all unfamiliar and bright, the chapters which follow are, in a way, like looking through the windows of this house. Certain occupants will be glimpsed only briefly. Visitors come and go. At some windows, you may wish to stay longer, but alas. As with any house, all within cannot be seen." So it is with the narrative of All That Is.
I'd be lying if I told you that I didn't occasionally find it frustrating. Not just because of the sensation of plodding. Salter is a strong enough writer to deserve a little patience. But because it frequently doesn't feel like there's a point to it all. Maybe that's another statement about life. It would often be true. But to me it leaves a cold distance between me and the narrative. As much as I found Salter's writing to be thrilling, I never much felt like embracing it, if that makes any sense. What I will remember about All That Is is not a feeling that was provoked, not a theme that I will remember and call back to, but, simply, the prose. To me, that makes it an incomplete experience.
There's one last issue that I have with this novel. There's a huge problem with representation of women. For the first half of the book I was willing to shrug it away, arguing to myself that since the writing feels like an artifact from the 1950s, perhaps it was an intentional goal to mimic the intense focus on men: their ideals, feelings, and role in society. But when a man is discovered in flagrante delicto with a female cashier and Salter writes that "The cashier claimed rape but then regained her poise," it is extremely disquieting. To say the least.
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course. This is his last novel.Read more
Stunning. Every word choice perfect. A revelation in almost every line.Read more