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Solo Faces: A Novel Paperback – June 1, 1988
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“Solo Faces contrasts a devotion to mountain climbing with the earthbound tugs of love and ordinary life . . . A beautifully composed book that will remind readers of Camus and Saint-Exupery. It exemplifies the purity it describes.” ―Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“[Salter is in] the great modern tradition of Conrad and Hemingway and Malraux.” ―Samuel Hynes, The New York Times Book Review
“A terrific novel--compelling, sad, wise, and kindhearted. Mr. Salter's prose is rare and stunning . . . How energizing it is to read a novel with a real hero in it--and a real hero he is.” ―John Irving
About the Author
James Salter was the celebrated author of six novels (The Hunters, 1957; The Arm of Flesh, 1961; A Sport and a Pastime, 1967; Light Years, 1975; Solo Faces, 1979; and All That Is, 2013) and three books of stories (Dusk and Other Stories, 1988; Last Night, 2005; and Collected Stories, 2013), as well a memoir, Burning the Days (1997). He also had a successful Hollywood career, most notably as the screenwriter of Downhill Racer (1969). Born in New Jersey in 1926 and raised in New York City, he attended West Point during World War II and served as an officer and a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force from 1945 to 1957. He drew on his combat experiences in Korea for his first two novels, though it was not until the controversial but now-classic A Sport and a Pastime that he considered that he had come close to measuring up to his own standards. He was a recipient of the 1989 PEN/Faulkner Award and the 2012 PEN/Malamud Award. He died in Sag Harbor, New York, in 2015.
Top customer reviews
Climbing and the inmost soul are Salter's subjects here, and he captures both with unerring eye and literary skills. Because he never overwrites, the casual reader may not fully appreciate the challenges that the author meets so elegantly. God and the devil are in the details, and in climbing (as in flying, about which Salter has written so well) lack of attention to detail can kill in instants. Readers who are also writers will slowly become aware of the fact that Salter never puts a word wrong and never uses more words than are necessary to communicate with the soul. Reading such work is reminiscent of looking at a seemingly simple but beautiful piece of sculpture or mechanical object in which every last detail has been honed to perfection and does its job correctly.
Why does this matter? Because if one reads the current wretched messes masquerading as quality fiction, for example in the NEW YORKER, one gets the sense of being asked to become involved in descriptions of navel lint, or more often of being asked to empathize with silly and unsympathetic people devoid of lives that involve risk.
So what has Salter done with SOLO FACES that transcends the current (02) wrtechedness? He puts us deep in the heart and soul, and makes us care about what these people are doing, and why. The climbing descriptions, despite being low key, will induce in the reader a sense of physical involvement that is (probably) measureable physiologically (heart rate, GSR, etc.). Anyone who wants to climb the Eiger is not sane, but deeply to be respected.
Salter's writing is as always, lean and powerful. The climber's world is presented believeably and with credible technical detail. Salter is, typically, consistently faithful to his characters. He often moves into imagery and introspection, then snaps the reader back to the stuggle on the rock face.
In this novel, the reader is there with loner Vernon Rand. From his mundane life as a roofer in California, to his lonely life in the French alpine village of Chamonix, to his legenary solo and rescue climbs, and then to his brush with the world of celebrity in Paris. He returns to climbing and, confirming his mortality, does indeed endeavor a climb that he cannot complete. Other people are involved - colleagues, admirers, romances.
I enjoyed this read. It was a primer on serious mountain climbing, and a thought-provoker regarding goals, courage, motivation, relationships.
Another reviewer has commented that the novel ends rather unresolved. Indeed that is how we leave Rand. Unsure that he has accomplished anything of value. Looking for stability and normalcy. Certainly a metaphor for the lives many of us lead.