Before I leave you for the weekend, a few last choice bits regarding my latest obsession. You should check out James Salter on Charlie Rose, where he is far too polite to tell Rose how appallingly stupid his questions are ... then read an account of Salter's recent appearance at the PEN USA dinner (thanks, LC), which to my great regret I did not attend, in which he said ...
“But I’m working on a new novel. And I think it’s pretty good. Sometimes books by novelists in their later years are thin or unsurprising. But there’s a photo I keep above my desk, it’s of a race horse…” It is of Red Rum, he said, a horse whose youth was unremarkable, but who won the Grand National late in life–much older than most horses are when they win championships. “So it reminds me,” he said, “sometimes in old age you can still get into the winner’s circle.”
That's a book I am looking forward to. Finally, you will want to read this 2009 American Scholar essay which excerpts a number of the letters between Salter and Robert Phelps, letters which have been collected in Memorable Days. How I wish people still wrote letters like this:
I’m tired of my life, my clothes, the things I say. I’m hacking away at the surface, as at some kind of gray ice, trying to break through to what is underneath or I am dead. I can feel the surface trembling—it seems ready to give but it never does. I am uninterested in current events. How can I justify this? How can I explain it? I don’t want to have the same vocabulary I’ve always had. I want something richer, broader, more penetrating and powerful. If I could only forget myself and work! That’s how things are.
(My only grumble, if I may be permitted, has to do with Richard Ford's oft-quoted idiotic formulation that Salter “writes American sentences better than anybody writing today." First, can someone meaningfully explain to me what the fuck an "American sentence" is? Hemingway or Bellow? Or both? Which is different from a French or Italian or Russian sentence how? And assuming such a beast actually existed, would any writer worth his or her salt seek to define himself or herself so absurdly narrowly? All the writers I know think about writing good sentences - clear, meaningful, occasionally melodic; nationality doesn't enter the picture. I hereinafter christen this sort of nonsense "Idiot Praise," the sort of thing that seems lofty and meaningful at first blush and, upon closer examination, collapses upon its idiotic self. OK, end of grumble.)