Sunday, June 23, 2013

Reading Journal: Last Night, by James Salter (2005)

A writer I first read mention of in an interview with Steven Heighton, (here), James Salter's second short fiction collection - and first since Dusk, in 1988 - packs 10 stories into 132 pages and each one has an electric charge. The last of them, the title story, is a true show-stopper about a couple that makes a suicide pact with a shocking outcome. It was Salter's compression that I'd read the highest praise of, and a lot of stories are heavy on short-burst dialogue, sentences that rarely go over one line but fall exactly the right way, advancing the action and revealing character without a single extraneous word. The subject matter varies, but the group largely focuses on love and sex and the stories often read like a revealing conversation, the exact moment in which the entire world before and after this particular exchange sharpens into focus. My favourite might have been "Palm Court," a simple but crushing tale of old lovers meeting up later in life, and "Platinum" has as its defining action the borrowing of a man's wife's earrings by his mistress. These are two standouts, but each story stays with you as a kind of haze, one that you know you'll only clarify through re-reading. Though this would normally bother me, Salter's so good that you re-read because you know things can't be as simple as he makes them seem. Masterfully subtle stories from a big writer with a very low profile. More of his work will be on my list.

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