Children are our crop, our fields, our earth. They are birds let loose into darkness. They are errors renewed.
~ James Salter
I returned home late yesterday evening after an entire day spent in a community theater whilst my biggest love ran through two different dress rehearsals for the dance recitals she will be in this coming weekend. Well, if I’m honest, I didn’t actually spend the entire day inside the theater. When I wasn’t there singing along in my seat or trying to push the kids off the stage so I could take my turn, I was making three trips up and down the freeway fetching and carrying and loving. Loving it all, for sure, but by 9 PM I was feeling a little foggy. Sometimes a few minutes in a whirling spa can clear the mind, but for people like us, though, it’s mostly storytelling and books that seem to cure any kind of weariness. And so it was that I found myself sitting at my desk downstairs in my study, wandering into the online bookshop for succor.
For some reason that now seems uncanny, I searched for something I hadn’t yet read from a reliable summertime favorite and came across James Salter’s memoir Burning the Days. Just last night. One of my most beloved authors . . . I thought . . . he has a memoir? . . . I should read his memoir! This morning there was a notice in my email inbox letting me know it was packaged and on its way, would be here by Saturday, and so like any book blogger I shared my excitement with my reader followers on Twitter, along with a promotional nod to a wonderful article published several years ago in The New York Times which praised Salter but wondered, as most of his reviewers do, why he had not yet found a wider audience and become one of The Greats.
Well, by 4 PM James Salter was suddenly trending on Twitter! What? Huh? I just tweeted about him this morning? To think that perhaps shortly after my copy of his memoir was shipped or several minutes or an hour after I tweeted the link to the review of it, he departed this world, and will never write another word. So very strange.
Somewhere in a field above the Hudson River, though, the wind slips slowly through knee-high grass, whispering Rest in Peace.
He’s been called a writer’s writer. A revered wordsmith, Salter’s novels have been described as “nearly perfect.” His obituary in this evening’s edition of The Times describes how “Mr. Salter wrote slowly, exactingly and, by almost every critic’s estimation, beautifully. Michael Dirda once observed in The Washington Post that ‘he can, when he wants, break your heart with a sentence.'”
In my own review of his last book All That Is, I simply wrote,
It is perfect. I lingered over the last few pages because I didn’t want it to end!
Lyrical. Poetic. Profound. There is a tenderness in the way he describes the human condition with all of its gruff desire and deep longing, the fleeting beauty of all that we love and lose. I’ve never read anyone as good. Just this past Easter I struck up a conversation with a guest at a dinner party who wanted to swap favorite books. He described how his father had given him a list of his favorites before he died and then shared with me a title on that list that simply swept him away. When he asked me what book on my list I thought he should read, it was Salter’s Light Years. We scribbled our titles across torn envelopes left there on the dining room table littered with dessert dishes and just like a scene from one of Salter’s books, we carried them off somewhere and never spoke again.
There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.
~ James Salter All That Is
salter @2or3littlebirds, reviews featuring some of his heartbreaking sentences