Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Nurse the Hate: James Salter

I have been reading a novel recommended to me called “A Sport and A Pastime” by James Salter.  I have no idea how I have never heard of this guy before now.  The novel was published in 1967, so my peer group has clearly failed me in this case.  His writing is so precise and spot-on it feels embarrassing to even attempt to convey a thought in this insignificant blog.  His writing makes me feel like a child.  To make an awkward comparison, it is like being in a second rate band and playing a Johnny Cash or Bob Dylan cover, then turning to the audience and offer up your own weak original for an unavoidable comparison.  “Hey everybody!  That’s the way it is supposed to be done!  Now, enjoy my failed attempt as you lose interest and drift off to the men’s room!”.  I will admit to feeling total envy for what appears to be effortless writing on his part. 

That dirty sonofabitch.

In this particular novel he writes about the almost impossible subject of romantic and sexual attraction.  There is no other subject butchered worse than this in literature.  “As his stiff manliness thrusted into her fleshy door to pleasure, he knew at that moment there was a God and she was his angel.  He exploded into her as she gasped his name.”  Look, I’ve never read that exactly, but I have read something close to it 116,789 times.  Almost anytime sex comes up in a novel, I read it and think “That has nothing in common with my experience.  Either I’m doing it wrong, or I’m going with the flow a little better than the protagonist. Did he really just refer to her breasts as heaving and her flesh as forbidden?”

Salter is so dead-on with the variance of emotions and desire.  The unique combination of utter intimacy with the very real contrast of the mystery of the opposite sex that somehow only increases the hunger for that person.  The subtle unspoken shifts between a couple by just a glance or change in vocal tone.  The mind’s inability to intellectualize past a need that is primal and pure.  This novel is a tour de force, a lesson in what is possible with a subject so universal and ultimately ordinary.  It’s humbling to read.

As I continue to attempt to become a better writer through sheer force of will and repetition, I realize I will never reach that type of summit.  While it is somewhat depressing to realize that my own limitations make it impossible to be amongst the very best, I suppose the personal reward and effort make the pursuit worthwhile.  Ultimately it makes little difference.  No one I came in contact with today knows who Donald Ray Pollack or James Salter are anyway.  The good news is that they all know Honey Boo Boo. Me?  I’m going to try and figure out who James Salter is, and maybe along the way figure myself out a little too.


At July 17, 2013 at 7:38:00 PM EDT , Blogger vfh159 said...

And this is why I check here every couple of days to see if something's new.

At July 18, 2013 at 1:50:00 AM EDT , Blogger Walter Zoomie said...

I'd say you do a pretty good job.
Keep at it. You have a great style. You are a good story teller, and even though you and I may not agree on a lot of things politically, I look forward to reading your stuff and I would buy you a beer any time.

At July 18, 2013 at 6:43:00 AM EDT , Blogger Greg Miller said...

That's why I stick with the writing and the music, the comp beer can't be beat!

At July 18, 2013 at 6:30:00 PM EDT , Blogger j said...

I check this site daily for updates. I think you're a very entertaining author keep up the good work.


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