James Salter Recalls Paris Memories

James Salter, one of the freshest voices in contemporary American fiction, was in Paris this month to renew a thirty-year relationship with the city. Although Salter never lived in Paris for any extended period, he continues to return – this time to retrieve and recall memories, images, voices, moments…

Salter, author of such works of fiction as A Sport and a Pastime, Light Years, Solo Faces and the graceful yet disturbing story collection, Dusk, is currently writing a book of episodic memoires. “The right time for one to write a memoire,” the author stated with characteristic wit and modesty, paraphrasing one of his editors, “is in one’s white-haired youth.”  “I thought I’d better hurry up.” The work is a chronological series of  essays from parts of Salter’s life.

Reading to a packed house at the Village Voice Bookshop on a Thursday night, and introduced by friend and Paris Review editor Jeanne McCulloch, Salter, with a battery of evocative gestures and tones, kept the audience riveted to their plastic tabourets with the subtle tensions and releases in his short story “Foreign Shores.”

The story deals with the experiences of a Dutch au pair named Truus who takes care of Gloria’s little son Christopher on a Long Island suburb. After a mild bout with perversity and suburban hysteria, Truus, with “the morals of a housefly” goes on to ambiguously better times. “The idea that there was an unearned happiness, that certain people found their way to it nearly made her (Gloria) sick.”

The endless banality of domesticity miraculously disappears under Salter’s light-handed touch. Salter’s art is as much in what he leaves out as what he puts in. The spaces he carves with surrounding detail and unadorned dialogue are often the sources of his power.    Dusk, North Point Press, 1988.


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