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Burning the Days: Recollectionby James Salter
Synopses & Reviews
In this brilliant book of recollection, one of America's finest writers re-creates people, places, and events spanning some fifty years, bringing to life an entire era through one man's sensibility. Scenes of love and desire, friendship, ambition, life in foreign cities and New York, are unforgettably rendered here in the unique style for which James Salter is widely admired.
Burning the Days captures a singular life, beginning with a Manhattan boyhood and then, satisfying his father's wishes, graduation from West Point, followed by service in the Air Force as a pilot. In some of the most evocative pages ever written about flying, Salter describes the exhilaration and terror of combat as a fighter pilot in the Korean War, scenes that are balanced by haunting pages of love and a young man's passion for women.
After resigning from the Air Force, Salter begins a second life, becoming a writer in the New York of the 1960s. Soon films beckon. There are vivid portraits of actors, directors, and producers--Polanski, Robert Redford, and others. Here also, more important, are writers who were influential, some by their character, like Irwin Shaw, others because of their taste and knowledge.
Ultimately Burning the Days is an illumination of what it is to be a man, and what it means to become a writer.
Only once in a long while--Vladimir Nabokov's Speak, Memory or Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa--does a memoir of such extraordinary clarity and power appear. Unconventional in form, Burning the Days is a stunning achievement by the writer The Washington Post Book World said "inhabits the same rarefied heights as Flannery O'Connor, Paul Bowles, Tennessee Williams and John Cheever" --a rare and unforgettable book.
"'Pleasure and inconsequence on one hand, immeasurable deeds on the other.' This is how, two-thirds of the way through his new memoir, Salter sums up watching a moon launch while making love to his mistress; it might also be said about his life. Salter's fiction has always been stunningly opaque, and the thematic arrangement and taut style of his 'recollection' make you look hard for the man behind the aesthetic. West Point, flight training, and dogfights yield language that is vivid and revealing of character, Salter's own and the men who lived and died in his squadron; but for Salter the screenwriter, words (and names) become a kind of currency, tickets to a closed and lavish world that swallows the middle of life. His reticence about the disintegration of his marriage is laudable but suspect, because it has the effect of quickening the artistic life around it. As he watches the astronauts, one of whom flew in his squadron in Korea, Salter writes: 'There was wreckage all around, but like the refuse piled behind restaurants I did not consider it—in front they were bowing and showing me to the table.' This, and other, exquisite cracks in the surface reveal a portrait of a man for whom flying and writing are vital, heroic, even as they suck life from ordinary things, an ultimately stirring affirmation from a man who is as good as his words." Reviewed by Daniel Weiss, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)
Whether he is describing the icy purity of the Korean sky in the instant before it is shattered by a huge formation of MIGs, the light of Paris at dawn, or the glinting smile of a beautiful woman in a Roman cafe, Salter is an incomparable observer and storyteller. And "Burning the Days" is a dazzling meditation on time, desire, memory, and regret.
About the Author
James Salter is the author of A Sport and a Pastime (now in Modern Library), Light Years, The Hunters, Solo Faces, and Dusk and Other Stories, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award in 1988. He lives in Colorado and Long Island.
From the Hardcover edition.
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