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A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter

A Sport and a Pastime (1967)

by James Salter

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Showing 1-5 of 15 (next | show all)
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.

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?’
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 |
This is a novel redolent of expressive moments. From the French countryside which one meets on the first page to the game of love played by the young duo - Philip Dean, the American, and Anne Marie, the French girl: 'la belle elle' - the reader is presented a world of existential transport. The unnamed narrator describes the passions of his friend Dean as they experience the culture of France and Dean experiences a breathless few months of carnal episodes.

It begins with a "luminous" September with still lengthy days and in a city filling with crowds after their August retreats suggesting that the unnamed narrator is making the right choice as he boards the train to depart the city. As he begins his train ride the sun hitting his face leads him to sleep. While he wakes as the train slows it is as if the scenes he shares are merely a continuation of his dreams. He admits: "None of this is true . . . I am only putting down details which entered me, fragments that were able to part my flesh. It's a story of things that never existed although even the faintest doubt of that, the smallest possibility, plunges everything into darkness."(p 11)
Reminiscent of Ford's The Good Soldier, our narrator is unreliable and his tale may be taken as a story that may not have happened or at least not happened quite exactly as depicted by the narrator.

Swiftly we meet the narrator's friend Dean and are introduced to the ingenue Ann Marie and the memories of the small French towns, the Summer evenings, speeding down the highway in Dean's borrowed roadster carry you forward while the many brief liaisons of Dean and Anne Marie acquire a status that they would never have if they occurred on the lower east side of Manhattan. Even at Yale, for Dean is an Eli, they would seem tawdry at best, but the ability of the narrator to portray the indescribable beauty of France elevates the story to a better place. However all is not so clear upon reflection for while Dean is no innocent, Anne Marie may not be either. One cloud that is always haunting Dean is the need for money to fuel his journey with Anne Marie. He is a poor English tutor (is there any other kind?) who depends upon his wealthy Father for funds and when his Father is not forthcoming he begs for loans from his friends. The days and nights, various towns and country lanes blend together as the story speeds toward a denouement that must be left for the reader to discover on his own.

In 1959, only eight years before the publication of A Sport and a Pastime, the Grove Press brought out their American edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover. The erotic realism of Salter's novel owes at least part of its heritage to the liberation made possible by that earlier milestone. Salter's prose is as beautiful as any I have read and with that beauty he transports you to a French land of dreams both light and dark. "The orchestras of the world beat softly" in the night as the lovers at midnight share their being.
This is a magnificent short novel that begs to be reread if only to share its haunting beauty and experience again the charms of its magic. ( )
  jwhenderson | Nov 16, 2013 |
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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)

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

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