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A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter
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A Sport and a Pastime (1967)

by James Salter

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
I rarely abandon a book, but Salter's novel, albeit stylistically elegant, is simply boring. He can write perfect sentences. I'll grant him that. But the novel itself doesn't add up to anything I need or want to know, see or discover. As many reviewers have noted, the novel seems dated. In fact, I had to continually remind myself that the setting is France 1962 and not decades earlier. There are echos of Tender Is the Night but without the fascinating driving off-a-cliff craziness of Fitzgerald's novel. As for sexism, the French Feminists would have had a field day deconstructing A Sport and a Pastime according to the theory of The Gaze. As for racism, there are a few instances of the "n" word in conjunction with a bit of racial stereotyping. These flare up in the headlights, so to speak, and then are gone--casual, surnois as the French might say, but not terribly meaningful. ( )
  Paulagraph | May 25, 2014 |
Short, choppy sentences which at first seemed interesting, eventually grew tiresome. Plus more racist language. What is it with these white literary types? Sick of all the n-bombs. I gave up after 50 pages.
  alienhard | Mar 26, 2014 |
Not as good as "Light Years" but still contains Salter's unbelievable ability to observe and describe the commonplace of our existence. The other interesting characteristic of this novel for me is the use of the omniscient narrator to relate the details of the vacation shared by Dean and Anne-Marie. ( )
  ghefferon | Mar 1, 2014 |
The title of this book comes from this line out of the Koran: “Remember that the life of this world is but a sport and a pastime…”

The narrator is a 34-year-old American living in France, who meets Phillip Dean, a 21-year-old dropout from Yale who is bouncing around, making it up as he goes along. Dean is everything the narrator is not. While the narrator is impotent to approach a woman named Claude who, “when she walks, leaves me weak”, Dean picks up and begins a highly sexual relationship with 18-year-old Anne-Marie, a French girl who turns out to be highly complaisant in bed.

The narrator describes acts between the two that he couldn’t possibly know. There is nothing inconsistent about this, for at the outset he warns that “none of this is true…I’m sure you’ll come to realize that.” Later, in the middle of the book, he says “I am not telling the truth about Dean, I am inventing him. I am creating him out of my own inadequacies, you must always remember that”, and at the end, it’s “one must have heroes, which is to say, one must create them.”

This creates a few different possibilities for what’s “real”; the entire thing could be the imaging of the narrator, or perhaps it’s just what Dean and Anne-Marie are like in bed which is the subject of his fantasies. The story is enjoyable regardless. The prose is spare and yet often beautiful, though Salter tends to fall in love with the use of similes, some of which are more successful than others, at least in this book.

The character of Dean reminds me of Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty; the narrator describes him as having a life which seems “more truthful”, and “even able to draw mine to it like the pull of a dark star.” Dean does not care what others think, and is “close to the life that flows, is transient, borne away … joined to the brevity of things.” He gets what he wants out of his friends and family, borrowing an expensive car and money from several of them, as well as what he wants out of Anne-Marie in bed. The book has many highly erotic descriptions of sex, and a taboo act in particular. Anne-Marie is completely willing, but there is an element of hope in her which seems doomed from the beginning given Dean’s rambling nature. For “All of Anne-Marie’s joy proceeds from the hope that they are only beginning, that before them is marriage and farewell to Autun, while like the negative from which her dreams are printed, he perceives the opposite. For Dean, every hour is piercing because it is closer to the end.”

In this sense, it’s the tragedy of life which passes all too soon, and of young love that is often fleeting, despite its purity and intensity.

Quotes:
On fantasies:
“…it’s impossible to control these dreams. The forbidden ones are incandescent – they burn through resolutions like cloth. I cannot stop them even if I want to. I cannot make them vanish. They are brighter than the day that surrounds me.”

And this one, on the delicacy of describing a fantasy to a lover:
“…they stroll in the mild sunlight and talk of the ways to love, the sweet variety.
‘What are they?’ she wants to know.
Dean begins casually, arranging as he does a bouquet of alternatives to conceal the one he really desires. He has said it a hundred times to himself, rehearsing, but still his heart skips.”

On love, and that moment when it comes into question:
“There are terrible moments in which one sees love with cold eyes.”

On lust:
“…I try to watch her, to isolate elements of that stunning sexuality, but it’s like memorizing the reflections of a diamond.”

On middle age:
“She’s not young, but rather in the midst of that last and most confident beauty, like the mother of a schoolmate. You see her emerging from a car, the flash of an elegant calf, and you are tumbled into unbearable love.”

On old age:
“He no longer lives in years; he is down to seasons. Finally it will become single nights, each one perilous as a lunar journey.”

On sex:
I loved this one:
“As his prick goes into her, he discovers the world. He knows the source of numbers, the path of the stars.”

In another encounter, and perhaps similar:
“In the great, secret provinces where she then exists, stars are falling like confetti, the skies turn white.”

After a description of an act which I’ll spare you:
“It is these exchanges which cement them, that is the terrible thing. These atrocities induce them towards love.”

And this joke, on English sex, uttered while observing a quiet English couple:
“…they sit in an utter, English silence reading the menu as if it were a contract. In an accent so perfect it surprises me, Anne-Marie whispers,
‘Did I hurt you darling?’
‘What?’
It’s a line from a joke Dean’s told her. Her face is full of mischievous joy. But I don’t know the original story. She delivers it with the assurance of a clown. That’s what he says, she explains. They’re in bed together. Then she says: no, why? And he says: you moved.”

On travel:
“It’s in the little towns that one discovers a country, in the kind of knowledge that comes from small days and nights.” ( )
2 vote gbill | Feb 3, 2014 |
Eh. I couldn't really finish this. I tried. I saw a spoiler about the end and the sex wasn't that good so oh well. ( )
  earthforms | Feb 2, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
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September. It seems these luminous days will never end.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0374530505, Paperback)

"As nearly perfect as any American fiction I know," is how Reynolds Price (The New York Times) described this classic that has been a favorite of readers, both here and in Europe, for almost forty years. Set in provincial France in the 1960s, it is the intensely carnal story--part shocking reality, part feverish dream --of a love affair between a footloose Yale dropout and a young French girl. There is the seen and the unseen--and pages that burn with a rare intensity.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:53:39 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

Salter chronicles a love affair between a young shopgirl and an American college dropout against the backdrop of provincial France.

» see all 2 descriptions

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