The New York Times
Last Nightby James Salter
Last Night is a spellbinding collection of stories about passion–by turns fiery and subdued, destructive and redemptive, alluring and devastating. These ten powerful stories portray men and women in their most intimate moments. A lover of poetry is asked by his wife to give up what may be his most treasured relationship. A book dealer is forced to/i>… See more details below
Last Night is a spellbinding collection of stories about passion–by turns fiery and subdued, destructive and redemptive, alluring and devastating. These ten powerful stories portray men and women in their most intimate moments. A lover of poetry is asked by his wife to give up what may be his most treasured relationship. A book dealer is forced to face the truth about his life. And in the title story, a translator assists his wife’s suicide, even as he performs a last act of betrayal. James Salter’ s assured style and emotional insight make him one of our most essential writers.
BONUS: This edition includes an excerpt from James Salter's All That Is.
The New York Times
–The Washington Post Book World
“For numerous reasons, all of which are dazzlingly illustrated in the new story collection Last Night, Salter seems to be the contemporary fiction writer whom other practitioners of the art hold in highest esteem.” –The Oregonian
“Life is a volatile mess, and no one portrays that mess better than James Salter. . . . All of the stories in Last Night are superb.”
–The New York Times Book Review
“A glowing gem in Salter’s remarkable body of work. Last Night should be X-rated, not for its eroticism, although there is that, but to forewarn the uninitiated of its scalding truths about the deceptions and devastations of love . . . Beyond the purity of language and the skill, each story has at its heart an underlying sensibility that treasures each moment of beauty, each burning day . . . Astonishing, haunting, heartbreaking.”
–Los Angeles Times Book Review
“Sophisticated, refreshing. Evoke[s] John Cheever [in] the flawless cadence of the narrative, the elegance of the style and the way the stories are filled with emotions without ever becoming sentimental . . . Wonderful.”
–Cleveland Plain Dealer
“Exquisite, pitch-perfect, timeless . . . You can practically smell the cigarette smoke and hear the booze-scratched timbre of Salter’s characters’ voices . . . In this era of chatter and distraction, Salter’s carefully honed stories offer a welcome precision.”
–San Francisco Chronicle
“The maestro constantly stirs you as you read . . . The sentences alone create a certain breathlessness. Paradise, in Salter’s fiction, has always already been lost. Yet the memory of a greener time persists, if only in his prose. While reading it, how happy one is.”
“Terrific fiction, written by an important writer . . . All of these stories share Salter’s exquisite prose, his talent for flitting gracefully between points of view, his uncanny ability to sum up a character in a single detail . . . Salter’s people are smart, witty, libidinous and romantic, likely to experience their most important personal epiphanies at dinner parties or in fashionable restaurants. And almost all of the stories revolve around relationships in one way or another: faltering marriages, missed opportunities and betrayals, past loves resurfacing in unexpected ways. More than that, each of these stories has a secret hidden beneath a seemingly innocuous veneer, a moment at which Salter reveals that everything is not as it seems, [a moment in which] the story pivots on its axis and becomes something altogether richer and more complex . . . In an ideal world, his books would leap from shelf to cash register . . . These stories should be read and savored.”
–Washington Post Book World
“The ragged tumult of intimacy has long been the province of James Salter, writer of the exquisitely appropriate sentence; the excruciatingly penetrating short story; the impressionistic, incandescent novel. In A Sport and a Pastime, Light Years (arguably one of the best novels ever) and Solo Faces, he has taken the art of fiction into a realm all his own; in Burning the Days and Gods of Tin, he has made nonfiction high art. In his latest, Last Night, neither his style nor his content flags. He writes with intensity and serious intent, illuminating those places we try to hide, never letting us off the hook . . . Salter is a master at capturing that moment when matters go completely and unexpectedly awry. He then mines that moment for all its beauty, horror, poignancy, love, lust, loss, grief and confusion, and renders it in unforgettable prose.”
“Salter’s prose inspires revelations.”
–The New York Post
“If you put John Updike’s short fiction on the Atkins diet for a month, you might end up with something like James Salter’s lean and powerful new collection, Last Night. These stories unfold in the dark flower of relationships one petal at a time. As in Updike’s world, Salter’s men hold their cards close and keep their women at bay. Old girlfriends, current paramours and the dreams caught up with sexual freedom haunt the husbands of this book. These stories speak to human frailty without fear, and they hint at the way regret lingers around the faithful like fog to a streetlamp.”
“One of the best, most adult collections to appear in a long while . . . The feelings of Mr. Salter’s characters are lean and instantaneous. They deliver minimalist dialog that is more Hollywood than noir . . . Tragedy, then, is not the slow burn of the unfortunate but the sudden tumble of the rich. In several stories, it is a quick, indelible dinner conversation. Even Mr. Salter’s prose works by this puncture aesthetic . . . Perhaps this is why so many writers admire Mr. Salter: because he seems to do what he does in a single sentence. But it takes an entire story to smooth out the tablecloth; only then can he stain it.”
–New York Sun
“In his new collection, James Salter displays the kind of precise mastery of language that has led him to be described as a ‘writer’s writer.’ However, these explorations of love, dreams, disappointment and betrayal show that his insight into universal themes is more than a match for his literary prowess: This stunning collection confirms that he is also undoubtedly a reader’s writer. Salter captures the essence of a moment or character using only its sparest elements. Like light striking water at just the right angle, his language makes these stories shimmer with life . . . He limns the subtle layers of relationships that Hollywood tends to forget; the moments that reach deeper into the heart than histrionic epiphanies and sunset endings because they acknowledge the shadowy illogic of human emotions . . . Salter’s characters suffer the unglamorous defeats and disappointments of love. [He] avoids the black-and-white morality of wrong vs. wronged. Instead, he leads us through the inexplicable geography of emotions that lie in between. He navigates the territory with exceptional insight and skill: Bitter or silent, awkward or serene–or as clear and bright as morning light–Salter writes it just the way it is.”
–Rocky Mountain News
“Splendid . . . Perfectly constructed and marvelously accurate prose portraits . . . Salter gives up the vital facts about his characters slowly, almost on a need-to-know basis. The job of telling what his people are really like is accomplished by peeling off layer after layer of their public face. It is not until the end of the story that we see the full man or woman and often the portrait is much different than what we anticipated . . . [The title story is] a masterpiece . . . Salter’s touch is always sure and his words precise. [Each story] rewards us many times over.”
“One hesitates to use the term writer’s writer . . . But James Salter is a writer’s writer, and his latest story collection shows why. Spare, deceptively simple prose like this is hard to come by, and if you read it with a sharp mind, you’ll pick up the unexpected curveballs that leave many of Salter’s colleagues and acolytes swooning . . . Salter captures his characters in a few short scenes, but each story packs in a lifetime of real feeling. Quiet and genteel though they may be, these people are capable of wicked betrayal, and they aren’t jaded to its consequences . . . [Here] we can feel the seductive power of words.”
–Time Out New York
“Stories of memory, love, war and the passage of time, how we change and how we don’t change, whether there is any connection between our young selves and our older selves . . . You don’t just meet his characters as they’re living now, but you learn how they looked and lived before . . . The stories are compact, intimate, some born from a single sentence . . . A collection preoccupied with time and legacy.”
“James Salter is one of a handful of writers whose name is uniformly uttered in reverence by fellow writers . . . Last Night is clearly the work of a writer with the perspective of years, the long view. The stories often focus upon those pivotal moments that, in retrospect, shape a life–missed chances, wrong paths taken, that one opportunity that a character did or didn’t take . . . Mysterious and evocative, and utterly beautiful in its language . . . Salter can toss off sentences [that] stop you cold in their lyric precision seemingly at will, two or three on every page . . . What also comes through Salter’s fiction is wisdom, earned from a well-lived life.”
“We sometimes come late to treasure we should have found long ago. For me, it is the writing of James Salter . . . Last Night has all of the trademark precision and melody he is known for . . . Elegant . . . In the Salter story, the table will be set, there will be wide doors with curved brass handles, deep armchairs, and Vuillard prints on the walls. The bed linens will be turned back and someone will be in tears . . . Salter is such a paradox to read. On the one hand, you have these pages of pliant and mellifluous prose, as fine and as sumptuous as a seven-course French dinner, hinting at life as comely as those meals. And then you have his characters in all their splendid shambles.”
–The Buffalo News
“Perhaps this collection of Salter’s artful yet definitely embraceable short stories will shake him free of his reputation as a writer’s writer. There is nothing wrong, of course, with being someone other writers like to read, but in Salter’s case a writer’s writer is also someone anyone who appreciates good writing would enjoy. There are 10 stories here, and not one fails to showcase his superior talent in the form: his prose style, which is subtle but not abstruse, and his stories’ points, which are also subtle, but never vague. He deals in the broad subject of relationships, but . . . finds corners of peculiarity to illuminate. The story ‘Comet’ [is a] masterpiece. The title story is a tour de force about assisted suicide gone wrong–for several reasons. . . Salter’s genius is most apparent in the effectiveness of his short and direct dialogue, which he uses not only to reflect real people talking but also to distill character to sheer essence.”
“Matchless narrative economy and surgically precise prose are the identifying marks of this exemplary gathering of ten stories by veteran author Salter . . . Sex, betrayal, aging and death are dominant themes . . . Salter’s great gift is his ability to trace the arc of an entire life, or several shared or separated lives, with a masterly fusion of crisp dialogue and penetrating summary statement . . . D.H. Lawrence might have devised the haunting symbolism that pervades [the story] ‘My Lord You’ . . . ‘Platinum’ reads like a combination of Edith Wharton and John O’Hara . . . All Salter’s themes merge memorably in the concluding (title) story, a compact symphony of mutual devotion, human frailty and lingering regret. One of the masters displays his wares, to stunning effect.”
–Kirkus Reviews (starred)
“Compelling . . . Teetering marriages, collapsing relationships and other calamities of the heart drive these 10 compact, unsettling stories by respected writer Salter. The title story is especially impressive–when Walter Such and his seriously ill wife, Marit, agree that he will assist in her suicide, Marit insists that Susanna, a mutual friend, come over to keep them company in her final moments. Nothing goes as planned, however, and Walter’s double betrayal of his wife ushers in the haunting conclusion . . . Stirring stories [that are] worthy additions to a formidable body of work.”
“As nearly perfect as any American fiction I know.”
“Salter is a writer who particularly rewards those for whom reading is an intense pleasure. He is among the very few North American writers all of whose work I want to read, whose as-yet-unpublished books I wait for impatiently.”
Read an Excerpt
Philip married Adele on a day in June. It was cloudy and the wind was blowing. Later the sun came out. It had been a while since Adele had married and she wore white: white pumps with low heels, a long white skirt that clung to her hips, a filmy blouse with a white bra underneath, and around her neck a string of freshwater pearls. They were married in her house, the one she’d gotten in the divorce. All her friends were there. She believed strongly in friendship. The room was crowded.
— I, Adele, she said in a clear voice, give myself to you, Phil, completely as your wife . . . Behind her as best man, somewhat oblivious, her young son was standing, and pinned to her panties as something borrowed was a small silver disc, actually a St. Christopher’s medal her father had worn in the war; she had several times rolled down the waistband of her skirt to show it to people. Near the door, under the impression that she was part of a garden tour, was an old woman who held a little dog by the handle of a cane hooked through his collar.
At the reception Adele smiled with happiness, drank too much, laughed, and scratched her bare arms with long showgirl nails. Her new husband admired her. He could have licked her palms like a calf does salt. She was still young enough to be good-looking, the final blaze of it, though she was too old for children, at least if she had anything to say about it. Summer was coming. Out of the afternoon haze she would appear, in her black bathing suit, limbs all tan, the brilliant sun behind her. She was the strong figure walking up the smooth sand from the sea, her legs, her wet swimmer’s hair, the grace of her, all careless and unhurried.
They settled into life together, hers mostly. It was her furniture and her books, though they were largely unread. She liked to tell stories about DeLereo, her first husband—Frank, his name was—the heir to a garbage-hauling empire. She called him Delerium, but the stories were not unaffectionate. Loyalty—it came from her childhood as well as the years of marriage, eight exhausting years, as she said—was her code. The terms of marriage had been simple, she admitted. Her job was to be dressed, have dinner ready, and be fucked once a day. One time in Florida with another couple they chartered a boat to go bonefishing off Bimini.
— We’ll have a good dinner, DeLereo had said happily, get on board and turn in. When we get up we’ll have passed the Gulf Stream.
It began that way but ended differently. The sea was very rough. They never did cross the Gulf Stream—the captain was from Long Island and got lost. DeLereo paid him fifty dollars to turn over the wheel and go below.
— Do you know anything about boats? the captain asked.
— More than you do, DeLereo told him.
He was under an ultimatum from Adele, who was lying, deathly pale, in their cabin. — Get us into port somewhere or get ready to sleep by yourself, she’d said.
Philip Ardet heard the story and many others often. He was mannerly and elegant, his head held back a bit as he talked, as though you were a menu. He and Adele had met on the golf course when she was learning to play. It was a wet day and the course was nearly empty. Adele and a friend were teeing off when a balding figure carrying a cloth bag with a few clubs in it asked if he could join them. Adele hit a passable drive. Her friend bounced his across the road and teed up another, which he topped. Phil, rather shyly, took out an old three wood and hit one two hundred yards straight down the fairway.
That was his persona, capable and calm. He’d gone to Princeton and been in the navy. He looked like someone who’d been in the navy, Adele said—his legs were strong. The first time she went out with him, he remarked it was a funny thing, some people liked him, some didn’t.
— The ones that do, I tend to lose interest in.
She wasn’t sure just what that meant but she liked his appearance, which was a bit worn, especially around the eyes. It made her feel he was a real man, though perhaps not the man he had been. Also he was smart, as she explained it, more or less the way professors were.
To be liked by her was worthwhile but to be liked by him seemed somehow of even greater value. There was something about him that discounted the world. He appeared in a way to care nothing for himself, to be above that.
He didn’t make much money, as it turned out. He wrote for a business weekly. She earned nearly that much selling houses. She had begun to put on a little weight. This was a few years after they were married. She was still beautiful—her face was—but she had adopted a more comfortable outline. She would get into bed with a drink, the way she had done when she was twenty-five. Phil, a sport jacket over his pajamas, sat reading. Sometimes he walked that way on their lawn in the morning. She sipped her drink and watched him.
— You know something?
— I’ve had good sex since I was fifteen, she said.
He looked up.
— I didn’t start quite that young, he confessed.
— Maybe you should have.
— Good advice. Little late though.
— Do you remember when we first got started?
— I remember.
— We could hardly stop, she said. You remember?
— It averages out.
— Oh, great, she said.
After he’d gone to sleep she watched a movie. The stars grew old, too, and had problems with love. It was different, though—they had already reaped huge rewards. She watched, thinking. She thought of what she had been, what she had had. She could have been a star.
What did Phil know—He was sleeping.
Autumn came. One evening they were at the Morrisseys’—Morrissey was a tall lawyer, the executor of many estates and trustee of others. Reading wills had been his true education, a look into the human heart, he said.
At the dinner table was a man from Chicago who’d made a fortune in computers, a nitwit it developed, who during the meal gave a toast,
— To the end of privacy and the life of dignity, he said.
He was with a dampened woman who had recently found out that her husband had been having an affair with a black woman in Cleveland, an affair that had somehow been going on for seven years. There may even have been a child.
— You can see why coming here is like a breath of fresh air for me, she said.
The women were sympathetic. They knew what she had to do—she had to rethink completely the past seven years.
— That’s right, her companion agreed.
— What is there to be rethought? Phil wanted to know.
He was answered with impatience. The deception, they said, the deception—she had been deceived all that time. Adele meanwhile was pouring more wine for herself. Her napkin covered the place where she had already spilled a glass of it.
— But that time was spent in happiness, wasn’t it? Phil asked guilelessly. That’s been lived. It can’t be changed. It can’t be just turned into unhappiness.
— That woman stole my husband. She stole everything he had vowed.
— Forgive me, Phil said softly. That happens every day.
There was an outcry as if from a chorus, heads thrust forward like the hissing, sacred geese. Only Adele sat silent.
— Every day, he repeated, his voice drowned out, the voice of reason or at least of fact.
— I’d never steal anyone’s man, Adele said then. Never. Her face had a tone of weariness when she drank, a weariness that knew the answer to everything. And I’d never break a vow.
— I don’t think you would, Phil said.
— I’d never fall for a twenty-year-old, either.
She was talking about the tutor, the girl who had come that time, youth burning through her clothes.
— No, you wouldn’t.
— He left his wife, Adele told them.
There was silence.
Phil’s bit of smile had gone but his face was still pleasant.
— I didn’t leave my wife, he said quietly. She threw me out.
— He left his wife and children, Adele said.
— I didn’t leave them. Anyway it was over between us. It had been for more than a year. He said it evenly, almost as if it had happened to someone else. It was my son’s tutor, he explained. I fell in love with her.
— And you began something with her? Morrissey suggested.
— Oh, yes.
There is love when you lose the power to speak, when you cannot even breathe.
— Within two or three days, he confessed.
— There in the house?
Phil shook his head. He had a strange, helpless feeling. He was abandoning himself.
— I didn’t do anything in the house.
— He left his wife and children, Adele repeated.
From the Hardcover edition.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Stories I'll never forget, moments of life captured forever in the amber of perfect prose. If you like Chekhov, you'll like this collection. A master at the height of his craft.
Salter is just one of those rare writers whose every line is perfect. Highly recommended collection for those serious about literary fiction.