All That Is by James Salter

Posted February 22, 2014 by Michael @ Knowledge Lost in Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction / 0 Comments

All That Is by James SalterTitle: All That Is (Goodreads)
Author: James Salter
Published: Picador, 2013
Pages: 304
Genres: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
My Copy: Paperback

Buy: AmazonBook DepositoryKindle (or visit your local Indie bookstore)

After 30 years James Slater returns to the literary world with a new novel, All That Is. With 88 years of life experience under his belt, Salter offers a unique perspective of life, passion and regret. All That Is explores fragment of Philip Bowman’s life, as a naval officer in World War II, attending Harvard University and going on to be an editor of a small publishing house. While this doesn’t cover Bowman’s life in the way a memoir would, we get little snippets of his life and what is important to him.

James Salter has been often dubbed as a writer’s writer, a title he wished to shed when writing All That Is, but does he pull that off? For me, this title means that he is a writer than other writers and serious readers love, but that the casual reader often won’t enjoy. The reasoning is that the beauty in Salter’s books is in the proses and not the plot. He feels like an old fashion writer; he writes proses so  elegant that it is often intimidating. He doesn’t try to write the perfect sentence that will blow the reader away every time; he does not want to lavish the reader, but you’ll still find a style that I think is graceful from page to page.

Something that I think goes against what is often taught to writers is that Salter is really good at ‘telling not showing’. He knows what he is doing and he executes this method in a precise way that just works for him. There are times when his similes and metaphors do come across as weird but for the most part everything flows and I found myself being swept away in the cleverness of his writing.

When exploring Philip Bowman’s life, we really get a sense of him as a person and the people he meets along the way. Some people we only meet for a few paragraphs but the style of Salter is enough to give the reader a good sense of who they are in such a short amount of time. This is a real talent and I really loved the little snap shots of people along the way. He manages to explore the little details and while we don’t know everything, he has painted a magnificent portrait of Bowman’s life.

As if it was a refrain to the novel we are often taken to a cocktail party and often we read about Philip Bowman making a move on a woman (often a married one) and inviting them to lunch. This often leads to sex and I think we are constantly reading about these conquests because they are important to Bowman. While this does feel a little repetitive at times, I think it is interesting to show the behavioural pattern of Bowman and his tried and true method of picking up woman.

I want to talk about the sex within All That Is (and Salter novels in general), while there isn’t as much as there was in A Sport and a Pastime (which I consider an erotic novel) there was still a lot in this one. The sex scenes in his novels might be considered crude and offensive to some, but they do play an important part, in All That Is we explore the passion and regrets of Philip Bowman’s life, a man that likes sex and though he can be a bit of a dick at times when trying to get laid, it felt honest and real. Salter doesn’t play around with euphemisms when he writes sex scenes, they are non-ludicrous and sometimes over descriptive. The thing I like about his sex scenes is that he doesn’t always try to be erotic, sometimes they are awkward or unintentionally funny, this just makes it feel more real; sometimes there is passion and it’s erotic, sometimes things go wrong. Often better than the sex itself is the events that follow, they may just be lying in bed making small talk, but it is here we get some real unseen insights into these characters.

I think I’m becoming a fan of James Salter, while I would recommend A Sport and a Pastime over this novel, there is a real joy in reading proses like this. James Salter does give a huge nod to the book industry and his love of books, but for me this was about life, love, passion and regret. Exploring the life of Philip Bowman was an interesting endeavour; sure, he is fictional but the book says a lot about life in general. Salter is not for everyone but if you like beautiful language and not afraid of some graphic depictions of sex then he is an author worth checking out.

0 responses to “All That Is by James Salter

  1. This was my first Salter novel and I totally fell in love with him when I read it. He can just write an incredible sentence, but I still think his characters have depth. And I totally agree with you on the sex scenes – his are some of very few that I find to be realistic instead of awkward.

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