Bookmarks Issue: 
James Salter


A-LastNightIn these 10 stories, Salter delves into the interior lives of characters dealing with matters of the heart. The chilling title story follows a husband and his lover who aid in his terminally ill wife’s suicide—but nothing goes as planned. In "Give," a couple has a most unusual way of working out the kinks in their relationship—even if it demands "things you cannot give, that would simply crush your heart." And "My Lord You" involves a housewife who transfers her fascination for an alcoholic poet to his pet. Each story speaks of love, loss, betrayal, desire, obsession, and missed opportunities.
Knopf. 144 pages. $20. ISBN: 1400043123

Rocky Mountain News 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Salter] 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. … Bitter or silent, awkward or serene—or as clear and bright as morning light—Salter writes it just the way it is." Jessica Slater

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"With Last Night he gives us 10 more pieces of short fiction that are difficult to read without becoming agitated with the possibilities of American prose and the beauty and pathetic torpors of American life." Alan Cheuse

Plain Dealer 4 of 5 Stars
"[D]o yourself a favor and discover this author. His latest collection of stories makes for a wonderful introduction to his fiction." Jean Charbonneau

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Set among a sophisticated circle in New York, the Hamptons and Hollywood, 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." Jane Ciabattari

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"There is something dated—but by no means quaint—in Salter’s hard-boiled, masculine sensibility, which evokes not just Hemingway but masters of dissolute disillusionment such as Richard Yates, John Cheever, and Frederick Exley. … Much of the drama lies beyond the confines of what appears on the page." Heller McAlpin

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"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." Valerie Ryan

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[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 or that what the characters believe to be true about their lives is, in fact, horribly false." Michael Knight

Critical Summary

Critics call novelist and short-story writer Salter a writer’s writer. These stories (some previously published in Esquire and The New Yorker) also confirm that he’s "a reader’s writer" in his exploration of universal themes (Rocky Mountain News). Reviewers unanimously applaud Salter’s gleaming, precise prose and haunting retrospection, which reinforce complex and sophisticated characters and themes. "You can practically smell the cigarette smoke and hear the booze-scratched timbre of Salter’s characters’ voices," notes the San Francisco Chronicle. Despite his characters’ dubious exploits—they drink, sin, and tempt others—they occupy an emotional, ambiguous middle ground. A few stories seem truncated, and various points of view within individual stories caused some confusion. But Last Night is as good as any place to start to appreciate Salter’s genius.