Thirty four year old American Photographer, the nameless narrator, staying in a small town Autun in the interior France, in a borrowed house of his friends, a couple staying in more urbane Paris surroundings in the early sixties. The quest to experience the real France as his stated motive behind this action. It is here he acquaint a young American Philip Dean, a Yale University dropout, wandering the French towns and villages. A young 18 year old French Beauty, Anne-Marie in his company. Inspired by love affair, he recollect their love life, through the words of Dean, the girl, his observations and his imaginations. The lusty, sensual bilingual affair of intimate love, with abundance of sexual exploits boasted by the young man as he and his girlfriend drive to and stay at various towns and villages of France. The affair, destined to end with the departure of the young boy back to the US, live through these upheaval move from strength to strength as the narration progresses,.
While it looks like a vigorous sexual encounters of two young adults, by a voyeuristic narrator, one has to shift the focus from Philip Dean and Ann-Marie, to the narrator himself. A man of self doubt, and a failure with the opposite sex, His act of narration of someone else' sexual life is coming out of his own inability. He does not hide that fact ;"I am not telling the truth about Dean, I am inventing him. I am creating him out of my own inadequacies, you must always remember that". Thus, his imagination of his incapability become the output of his narration. Thus he focuses his efforts on creating those aspects of his life, through the invented characters of his story. One, to overcome his impotency and the other, the need of experiencing the rural France both being fulfilled through his heard, learnt, exaggerated, fabricated, modified, imagined story. And when he does that, he does it with the precision of his photographic profession, with details to the minutest aspects. It is like entering a world that is created by the young lovers, opened it to us by the narrator, and reader immersed in this world with the narrator.
Books of erotic in nature or those with explicit scenes of sex gets me bored with it in a short time. The language is usually sick and the use of common terms and repetition makes the reading more laborious than entertaining. I haven't seen many of the mainstream writers, in the literary side, doing a decent job at this, often bordering around ridiculous pornographic writings. James Salter, managed this part pretty well, with not many moments of wrinkling the brows in disgust. Even the most graphical scenes were written with elegant restrain most of the times ( there are a few exception to this where I found the writing is cheap and pedestrian). Barring this, the writing has been of very high standard. The poise, the detailing of aspects, the inventive creativity of the narrator, the appropriate pacing of chapters, and the bi-lingual and multi cultural environment among the rest were brilliant.
In the introduction Reynolds Price, brings our attention to the days of publication of D H Lawrence's 'Lady Chatterley's Lover' by Grove's press in the US and the controversy it created. This book, probably would have been as scandalous as the previous one for its openness. The impact after 45 years of it original publication may not be as big, and do feel a bit dated for today's sensibilities. Also, this by no means a major literary achievement and I probably may not go back to this book ever. James Salter's name was in discussion for a while and this was the first I could manage to get. Probably there are better books that I should look for as I can see he is a prolific writer of style.
A Sport and a Pastime ( 1967)
Farrar,Straus & Giruox
Interview with James Salter, Paris Review, Swans Commentary, NY Times, Wiki