JAMES SALTER’S “A SPORT AND A PASTIME”

SALTER It’s bad practice to post a brief book report after reading a few reviews on Amazon, at least in my own writer guidelines. But this time, I did just that. The uneasy sense of confusion I had while reading this Salter book was too much. I rapidly went in search of confirmation. I found that others had similar reactions. One reviewer said it best, that Slater gives us an engaging intelligent narrator in a lovely setting in France and then tosses a monkey wrench into the telling.

In a klunky way, Salter puts his narrator in the role of describing some other guy’s romance.  We sense an odd attraction between the two men. Why, we aren’t sure. This is far from Nick and Gatsby, or that type of clearly executed observer voice. This is an odd hybrid of first POV and third POV. Much of it is unknowable by the first person voice, yet documented in vivid scenes. Since he’s not present, it is impossible for him to document the episodic sex scenes between his friend Dean and this Ann chick. So the narrator says, well, I’m sort of imagining it.  Huh?

There’s plenty of flesh. The book was written in the Sixties (1967) when womens’ rights awareness wasn’t yet raised to the height of the 70s. Still, there is a lot of room for feminist complaint about the objectification of a woman, i.e., Ann being a mindless sperm receptacle, etc. Fact is, Dean is pretty shallow too. Maybe in that sense he is a harbinger of men characters in future women’s novels. The ones in which women’s characters are duly given full development but at the cost (intentional or not) of shallow portrayal of the male characters. In a sort of role reversal the male characters end up as sex objects themselves, like mindless and faceless hard-ons.

This book has been touted as a “writers’ kind of writing” novel, a sort of paragon of styles and language. The writing itself is very good.  Slater has a refined style and immense talent with words. Stretches of it were so well written I went into a reader’s trance. But overall I didn’t like the story and characters and found the novel difficult to digest.

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