- 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: 136 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,969 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Light Years Paperback – January 31, 1995
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“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.”
“An absolutely beautiful, monstrous, important book.”
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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It is 1958 and we are just north of Manhattan in Westchester County. Nedra, her husband, Ari and their friends speak differently from you and me (or at least I hope they do), like certain people of their time who have moved up the Hudson and out of the city to raise their children. They bring with them the bohemian, esthetically elevated ambience of their life in the Village and the upper West Side. They are affluent, they are knowledgeable, they are sure of themselves. When they entertain they drink Margaux sitting beneath a Chagall print and eat cheeses that come in thin boxes from Zabar’s . If no one is around to see you eat oranges and chocolate for breakfast is it still cool? Just wondering.
After a bit, Salter’s characters began to irritate me with their affected habits and their self obsessed lifestyle. They live their lives as though someone is filming it in real time. But okay, we don’t have to like the people we’re reading about.
The Light Years characters all have flaws that draw people to them. Perfection isn’t so interesting so we want something to be off kilter and this novel is chock full of off kilter. The only character who is consistently rendered as physically perfect is Nedra. She is beautiful, thin, tall, sophisticated. We are told that she is interested in the heart of existence (meals, bed linen, clothing). Realy? “She does everything, she does nothing.” And her life is “concealed”. She is a case in point. She drives down to The City every day and shops for goodies at Zabar’s and pops into the art galleries. She shops for lovely clothes and the odd arty thing to bring home and show to her family. She breezes in the door everyday just in time to whip up a clever little dinner. She has a passionate affair. And yet this life is just not enough. She wants more. I tried but I just couldn’t make myself care about how her life turned out.
Sounds humdrum and not worth reading, right? That's where you're wrong: "Light Years," by James Salter, is a beautiful, heartbreaking book about people that, on the surface level, you may not give a damn about. They live the unexamined life, perhaps, or they're part of the beautiful people, with "white people problems" that don't relate to you. But their journey, apart and together, is our journey, the final destination not discriminating between rich and poor, white and black, male and female, and so on. This is a novel about the human condition; that it involves characters who could seriously be considered not even the main attractions of their own story is part of the point.
Marital infidelity reared its ugly head as the preeminent preoccupation of "serious" American novelists and short-story writers after the Second World War, and for much of the book Salter seems to be towing the line (affairs are begun and ended, alibis established, feelings that once moored two people together now drawing them apart). But the focus of his book is less in the salaciousness of illicit attractions and more in the damage done to two people who ostensibly loved one another, at least once, who are now realizing how little they still have those feelings for one another. Salter does this with beautiful prose that is evocative and shattering.
This is a novel of the Sixties, but it's not really about them; I always cringe when I see (usually in film or TV) visual, verbal, or musical cues to let us know when something is set, and there's barely any of that here. Salter knows that in real life, people don't talk about some of the things that eventually dominate an era; not when they're self-absorbed to the point of almost making the reader want them to end horribly. Viri and Nedra aren't sympathetic because of their actions, but in spite of them. The reader must ultimately embrace them as flawed, epically so.
I read "A Sport and a Pastime" last year, and was recommended this book by someone whose judgment I trust. That trust has been rewarded; "Light Years" is a quiet classic of American literature, a book that should be read more often than it is. Lives of quiet desperation have never quite been captured so beautifully.
As a writer, it amazes me how high a bar Salter sets with this work. He never misses a beat. The passage devoted to light, how the sun or lamps or streetlight illuminate (or fail to illuminate) a location, could be written about and heaped with superlatives.
I won’t say much about this novel except that it should be read; this is especially the case of all those who write.
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