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The Hunters: A Novel Paperback – July 27, 1999
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From Library Journal
Salter's 1956 fighter pilot novel stands out as a literary endeavor in a genre dominated by cheap adventure yarns. Salter goes beyond the usual gung-ho fighter jock glitz to present the story of Capt. Cleve Connell, whose intentions of becoming an ace are thwarted by enemy pilots with plans of their own.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
"The contemporary writer most admired and envied by other writers. . . . He can . . . break your heart with a sentence."
--Washington Post Book World
"Anyone under forty may not appreciate how profoundly Salter influenced my generation. [He] created the finest work ever to appear in print--ever--about men who fly and fight." --Robert F. Dorr, author of F-86 Sabre
Darkly romantic. . .beautifully composed. . .a brilliant war novel." --Chicago Tribune
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Perhaps because this is Salter's first novel, the prose is more spare and less lush, which in this story is a good thing. His famously beautiful, dense sentences are rare here. But all of the emotion exists. I know of no other "war novel" that so perfectly captures the emotions of fighting men than this one.
Semi-autobiographical, yet devoid of military jargon, Salter treats his subject with brutal honesty, yet respect. In the preface he writes of how Lord Bryon was more proud of his ancestors who fought than he was in having written great books. He writes: "Looking back, I feel a pride akin to that in having flown and fought along the Yalu."
Wars are fought by fighting men not for political ideals or for love of country. They are fought for glory, for the idea of doing something truly important, and for their brothers in arms in the foxhole beside them. Cleve Connell, as a fighter pilot, deals with all of these conflicting forces at once. He faces the ultimate conflict; he must choose what is truly "right" and "just" even when it conflicts with his ability to be heroic. When is not being a "hero" actually being a hero?
What a beautiful novel; Salter distills these true motivations and dispenses with all of the politics and morality talk that those who have never seen combat believe it is all about. I will not reveal ANY of the plot; do not read any synopsis, no matter how brief. Don't even read the jacket of the book. Just go read the book itself.
James Salter’s prose is tight, not a word wasted, often poetic and incandescent. The Hunters is a book about men in the 1950s in difficult situations and therefore might not appeal to women. But not many can deny that Salter writes with a precision seldom seen in contemporary literature.
Jeffrey Penn May, author of Roobala Take Me Home, Where the River Splits, Cynthia and the Blue Cat’s Last Meow, No Teacher Left Standing, Eight Billion Steps: My Impossible Quest for Cancer Comedy, Finding Your Fiction, and more.
The protagonist of THE HUNTERS is the straight-shooting Captain Cleve Connell, who is considered an outstanding F-86 fighter pilot. He has flown fighters for seven years and has “… a certain renown” and “a reputation based on achievement.” Before reporting to his Korean unit, Cleve seems to believe that his excellence, which came easily to him, will be the foundation for attaining the status of an ace.
Cleve is only five missions into his tour when he begins to realize that some pilots and senior officers game the system. On this mission, a pilot with four prior kills—Robey—claims another kill, which his wingman confirms only after being pressured by a colonel. “You’re not trying to remember, Dawes. Think. Think of your career, Dawes.” At the same time, other pilots are skeptical. “Did he really get this one for a change?” one experienced pilot asks. “I won’t say he didn’t get them… but two of them were pretty doubtful.”
A few days after this notorious mission, Cleve is made a flight commander, which means he leads a squad of eight pilots. Then, Cleve reaches nine missions and Second Lieutenant Pell is assigned to his group. Pell is an ambitious and unscrupulous gambler who quickly sees how the game is played. He is a good pilot with great eyesight. But Pell also leaves other pilots undefended if he sees a kill opportunity. He positions undefended pilots as bait for MiGs, which he then swoops down to destroy. And he distorts his own vulnerability, pleading for immediate support, when he sees another pilot nearing a kill.
In THE HUNTERS, the lying Robey may be underserving of his success and a travesty created by senior officers. But Pell takes underserving success to the next level, where he demonstrates what an evil person can and will do to achieve success in a corrupt system. At the same time, Salter does show that skill and professionalism are necessary to perform truly great feats, even though the consequences of these feats may be tragic.
THE HUNTERS is Salter’s first novel and it shows, mostly in the first half of the book, when Salter tries for a profundity. “It was still all adventure, as exciting as love, as frightening.” “He seemed to be above the confusion of life, as if he had been commissioned to spend his own in undisturbed judgment of the world about him, protected always by a mandate from the gods.”
But the craft in the second half of this novel is wonderful, with Salter managing to infuse his writing with profundity without straining for it. This is the Salter who is widely praised for his great sentences. “Being in a squadron was a digest of life. You were a child when you joined. There was endless opportunity and everything was new. Gradually, almost unknowingly, the days of painful learning and delight were over; you achieved maturity; and then suddenly you were old, with new faces and relationships that were difficult to recognize rising up quickly all around you, until you found yourself practically unwelcome in the midst of them…”
Rounded up and recommended.
Most recent customer reviews
I am giving it four stars (not five) because:
- there is no light at the end of the tunnel;...Read more