07 December 2013
A Sport and a Pastime
Twenty-year-old Yale dropout Phillip Dean is traveling Europe aimlessly in a borrowed car with little money, until stopping for a few days in a church-quiet town near Dijon, where he meets Anne-Marie Costallat, a young shop assistant. She quickly becomes to him the real France, its beating heart and an object of pure longing. The two begin an affair both carnal and innocent.
Beautiful and haunting, A Sport and a Pastime is one of the first great American novels to speak frankly of human desire and the yearning for passion free of guilt and shame.
Firstly, thanks to Rebecca Schinsky (currently of Book Riot and late of The Booklady's Blog) for pointing me towards James Salter. A thousand times, thank you.
Secondly, yes, Virginia, there are some people who can write good sex scenes in the literary fiction genre. And that man is James Salter.
A Sport and a Pastime has an interesting structure. We begin by travelling to Dijon with the narrator but when the narrator meets Phillip we really no longer stay with the narrator, we follow Phillip. It's as if the narrator is obsessed with Phillip. At times the interest seems fatherly, at times friendly, at times, even, romantically. This is a very voyeuristic book as the narrator imagines/becomes omniscient during the love scenes with Phillip and Anne-Marie. There's a lot of very frank sex talk which is interesting because it opens a window on how not only a 1960s privileged college male views sex without marriage, we are also privy to the ways in which a young French woman might view sex (although filtered through Salter's taste, but Salter-as-author seems to be very neutral, almost journalistic in tone). Salter even plays with the reader's understanding, at one point telling us that nothing that he wrote was true.
An excellent book. Also one of the first I've read using the Oyster subscription service. Highly recommend that, too, for it's extensive backlist.