Monday, January 20, 2014

Heard: "All That Is" by James Salter

Heard: All That Is by James Salter, 2013, download.

Why did I check this out?  Because I got confused and was thinking of James Sallis.  I just now read an article saying this is Salter's latest novel in 35 years.  Very literary.  You can tell because not too much happens.

This was entertaining though.  The narrator did quite well.  I had my usual audiobook difficulty of following more than three or four characters at once.  This took a while to finish because me ears were hurting and I stopped listening with ear buds.  [My immediate thought was that I had finally, permanently, and irreparably damaged by ears.  I tend to act like a hypochondriac though.]

The publisher describes the novel as "extraordinary literary event" and "Romantic and haunting" and "sweeping, seductive, deeply moving" and "fiercely intimate account of the great shocks and grand pleasures of being alive'.  Okay, then.  I mean, it was good.  Not that good.

Told in intervals following several characters but focusing on Philip Bowman's life after WWII and into the '80s.  Salter would take little detours into each character for introduction.  He'd write about the character's family, a significant, or even insignificant, event to illustrate the person and their character.  Those little pastiches are incredibly well done. 

But, not much else happens.  We follow Bowman from his post-war Navy career into publishing.  A brief marriage to a D.C. socialite.  An affair with a married Englishwoman.  Various and brief relationships.  The lives of Bowman's co-workers and friends.  Some tragedies.  Some drinking.  Some real estate.  Some traveling.  Some romantic relationships that are one-sided and end.

At one point Bowman is really screwed over a by girlfriend he hopes to marry.  The woman is long-separated from her Greek husband but reluctant to finish the divorce and re-marry.  She becomes a real estate agent, convinces Bowman (without much effort) to by a house, and she lives there.  She starts screwing a local contractor and then files suit against Bowman saying she and Bowman had a verbal contract that the house was hers.  She wins the case after lying in court.  It was unclear to me if this was all a grand plan by her.

A handful of years later the ex-girlfriend's twenty-year-old daughter runs into Bowman.  Bowman is happy to see her and invites her to a party he is hosting.  They then smoke hash, go out on the town, return to Bowman's and have sex.  Bowman impulsively asks her to travel with him to Paris.  She accepts.  They spend a few days in Paris and she awakens in her hotel room to a disappeared Bowman.  Bowman up and left her with a pithy hand written note and no return air ticket, no cash, no nothing.  The daughter has to call her mother to arrange transit back to the U.S.

Bowman's behavior is incredibly despicable.  I understand the anger at the ex-girlfriend.  Bowman spent $55,000 cash he had to scrounge for and was paying on the mortgage.  But, to drag in an innocent party is incredibly low.

1.  I suppose we are following Bowman as he learns to live and get along with lovers.  His own father abandoned the family when Bowman was a infant.  Bowman was raised by his mom, her sister, and her brother-in-law.  His failed marriage to the beautiful socialite already made him gun shy.  The ending piece with Bowman proposing a trip to Italy with his current girlfriend is a resolution of sorts.
2.  If you can call that a resolution.  How do you resolve nothing?
3.  If you like character studies you'll like this.
4.  Nicely narrated.

1 comment:

pattinase (abbott) said...

Haven't read this one but I love some of his earlier stuff. I think LIGHT YEARS was the one--unless that is James Sallis.