Is there a classic you feel is overrated? Novelist, James Salter, says “The Great Gatsby” is. I never did understand the acclaim Gatsby received, but now another movie is coming out with Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy, the iconic object of desire. It promises to be a lavish production, and with the central theme being the quest for money and power, it should have a popular run.
But back to Salter, the true subject of this post. There was an interesting article about him in the April 15th issue of The New Yorker, and I've been wanting to write about him ever since. I have a couple of minutes this morning before I take off for the exploding asparagus bed and all the other demands of spring.
Salter is not famous but he is renowned for his sentence building (he labors over his paragraphs) and depictions of sex and valor. While he has not been a prolific writer, according to friends he is always working on something, scribbling on matchbooks and hotel stationery, taking notes on the people around him, writing away under the table. Nick Paumgarten, the author of the article, surmises that his best books might be too dirty, or too adult, to become fixtures on college syllabi. Too dirty? That got my attention. Like when a book is banned, I immediately want to read it.
Salter wrote “Light Years”, which many readers and writers consider a masterpiece and “A Sport and a Pastime” a tale about a Yale dropout and a French girl who travel around provincial France in a convertible and make love in hotel rooms. The novel was initially rejected by publishers as being too repetitive with unlikeable characters (this rang a gong with me). Though Salter says he figured it was the sex that put them off. Happily there are editors out there who are not put off by sex. Now he has a new novel, his first in more than thirty years. It’s called “All That Is.” It is about a World War II veteran who becomes a book editor and seeks love, the universal human preoccupation and subject of much angst in novel writing.
Says Salter, “I like to write about certain things that if they are not written about are not going to exist.” What things might you write about that if you didn’t, they wouldn’t exist? Things that nobody has a memory of except you? I have a memory of a girl on the threshold of knowing, on the hunt with her dog in an open field under a night sky with the sense of a universe within reach, an undercurrent of expectation underfoot. The dog has his nose to the ground but the girl can't put her finger on the source of contentment she unconsciouly knows is fleeting. Can the snapshot of a memory be enough to base a novel on? A memory nobody else has?