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Light Years

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  5,305 ratings  ·  721 reviews
This exquisite, resonant novel by PEN/Faulkner winner James Salter is a brilliant portrait of a marriage by a contemporary American master. It is the story of Nedra and Viri, whose favored life is centered around dinners, ingenious games with their children, enviable friends, and near-perfect days passed skating on a frozen river or sunning on the beach. But even as he lin ...more
ebook, 320 pages
Published February 9th 2011 by Vintage (first published 1975)
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Average rating 4.03  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,305 ratings  ·  721 reviews

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Feb 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"There is no complete life. There are only fragments."

I loved this beautiful, understated, unsentimental, slowly tragic book. It’s elusive and impressionistic, but painfully real. A meandering suite of poetic tableaux. Disjointed yet intricately connected. Even the tenses are occasionally fluid. It’s imbued with light and autumn fruits, but a brittle chill lurks silently, hungrily, in the shadows.

They are like fragments in which reflections live... collect them and a greater shape begins to
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Brave poets
There is nothing light about this book.
Paradoxically, not even the in the title.
I am blown away. I am devastated.
I wasn’t prepared for Salter, and in spite of knowing the plot and having read many of my GR friends’ reviews, I wasn’t ready to read this novel.
A book that looks the reader in the eye and questions everything we consider essential, the things we build our lives around, the grandiloquent words we use freely without really knowing the extent of their transient meanings: youth, marria
Will Byrnes
Nov 01, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
This is a portrait of marriage. I felt very touched by the lives he describes, not so much for their own travails, but in recognition of my own. There is such sadness in expectations unfulfilled. Our lives do not follow the script we write as inexperienced authors of our lives. We drift apart, do not, cannot travel like paired rails to a common destination. I guess that is what this book is about. I found it lyrical as well as sad, beautifully written, not the heroic in the world, the challenged ...more
Violet wells
Sep 10, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Light Years is a novel about a marriage and about home – home only sometimes the place where the heart is. Salter focuses on a couple who usually have a supporting role in other novels. The kind of restless, disaffected, showy, promiscuous couple who provide an inkling that there’s something rotten in the state of Denmark. Except there’s no Hamlet in this novel, no Gatsby, no innocent who will be undone by the toxins of a culture in decline. Salter puts at the heart of his novel characters who a
Elyse  Walters
Sep 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
James Salter was born in 1925.
He grew up in New York....attended West Point.
He was a career officer and Flight Pilot in the United States Air Force from 1945 to 1957.
He earned a living as a writer after he resigned from the military.
James Salter died last year, June 19, 2015, at the age 90

This book, "Light Years", is my first exposure to Salter. He won numerous literary awards.
Pulitzer Prize-winner Richard Ford has been quoted as saying...
"It is an article of faith among readers of fiction
Oct 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There are really two kinds of life. There is, as Viri says, the one people believe you are living, and there is the other. It is the other which causes the trouble, this other we long to see.

And here I am once more, mesmerized and hypnotized by the writing of another mid-last-century American male writer. A writer who tells about "the other" kind of life, the hidden one, with cutting, unsentimental strokes - each stroke confirming the doom of convention, of marriage, of life.

It's the story o
Aug 20, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: set-in-the-us
A very beautifully written portrait of an adulterous marriage, adulterous on both sides. It's a novel essentially made up of vignettes, snapshots, defining moments. There's little dramatic tension but it's a tremendously wise and philosophical and poetical novel.

What I would say is that Salter is more convincing writing from the male perspective than the female. His heroine, Nedra, seemed a little idealised. As if we only see her through the besotted eyes of her husband. It's not entirely clear
Steven Godin
Nov 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Salter has struck gold here with one of the most beautifully written book I will ever get to read, but this is not a story in the traditional sense, and some will struggle with Salter's writing, as this was probably written with older adults in mind and those with children, but should undisputedly be appreciated by all. Reflecting on moments in life, feelings for the change in ones family and the wide range of emotions this can bring and just simply the passing of time are the foundations for th ...more
Unfathomable Font of Blue Flowing: Life's Serial Goodbyes

This one hit home hard. I identified closely with the core of the male character, but I loved it most for its gorgeous profundity. The novel brims with such eloquence on both feeling life's emptiness of meaning and in appealing to life's abundance.

Salter does his damnedest (likely the best I've read) in beautifully depicting the depths of sadness that spring from life's fountain of serial goodbyes, in their many variations: from parents,
Apr 15, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A novel to read quickly, in a few long gulps. Reopening it each time, I needed at least 20 pages to recover the book’s subtle groove. Snatching a chapter here or a few pages there didn’t work: the characters sounded trivial, their pillow talk and dinner chatter banal, infuriating. I had to let their days accumulate. And the writing can seem all-too hushed and solemn; but the imagery becomes inevitable, the rhythms right. I admire Salter for having the balls to write a novel requiring such immers ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
"The only thing I'm afraid of are the words 'ordinary life.'"
This novel, first published in 1975, has somehow drifted onto my radar lately and I'm not sure why. I bought it on a whim and I almost never buy brand new books. I'm so glad I did. It is an incredibly thought provoking look at marriage, satisfaction with our lives as we age, etc. Although I'm not sure I will read in bed anymore. I had this on my bedside table for almost a month and almost quit reading it. It felt fragmented but I think
William Thomas
You ever have one of those days where you spend the waning daylight hours staring out of a picture window at nothing in particular, with a far away look on your face, trying to clear your mind with a scotch in one hand and the other hadn stuffed in your pocket, rocking back and forth on your heels every so often, shaking the glass to break up the ice and then sighing so heavily that you physically deflate, your shoulders slumping and posture slouching?

This book is the literary equivalent of thi
Dec 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has left me shattered. It's quite an emotional journey: melancholy, poetic, ineluctable. Every sentence feels etched in stone, and yet the overall mood is somehow fluid, capturing lives in flux: the dissolution of a marriage, sure, but also the individual journeys of each family member, written in prose that is tender, knowing, and profound. The depictions of mid-century New York are also captivating and elegant and yet don't draw attention to themselves: they're more like a steady und ...more
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020-reads, fiction, love
Their life is mysterious, it is like a forest; from far off it seems a unity, it can be comprehended, described, but closer it begins to separate, to break into light and shadow, the density blinds one. Within there is no form, only prodigious detail that reaches everywhere...

What a sensual examination of a languid marriage, a personal look at a relationship in tangles. A sexual exploration. Salter beguiles with poetic fragments which mirror the lives of his characters. The concentration of imag
Sep 13, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: samuel
I loved this more than I've loved any novel in a very long time, but please don't interpret that as a recommendation because you might really hate it. It spans something like fifteen years of a marriage and is mostly about sexy people with tons of money enjoying elaborately prepared meals and traveling around under various types of sky. But it's great.

I've noticed that many people have no tolerance for novels about unendearing rich characters doing nothing -- or perhaps more accurately, not supe
Lee Klein
Sep 13, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: fans of "Revolutionary Road"?
Hmm. I admired this more than I liked it. It's one of the most generic stories ever told, really, about the dissolution of the privileged lives of family and friends. Westchester County. The Hamptons. European travel. Educated, urbane conversation. Too much knowledge of good wine. Hot, intelligent children. "Luminous" prose, yea, but it seemed too often mannered for me. The syntax is consistent, two phrases separated by a comma, the second phrase deepening the resonance, often with an unexpected ...more
Dec 23, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I tried to like it, I really tried. Had to read it for a class, and while there were enjoyable moments, it was for the most part incredibly boring. Someone else reviewing it called it old white guy fiction and that is exactly what it is. And there is entertaining and good old white guy fiction, but Light Years is not even that. I not only didn't like either of the main characters, I actively hated them. They were selfish, self-centered, altogether terrible people who didn't have any real problem ...more
Let me start by saying that this book is a gem, flawless, rich, intelligent, emotional, mature. It is a work of genius. Of a minor genius (in the grand sweep of things), perhaps; but of genius, nonetheless.

The Hunters is an excellent book - beautifully written, plotted, with rich and believable characters -- often handled deftly with a few quick strokes. In it, Salter shows that he is developing a craftsmanship of real note. And added to that is the fact that he actually has something to say.

I t
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“What do we really know of all this?”
This Salter belongs to the genre of "stump in the stomach"-novels, because he mercilessly confronts you with the emptiness, the deficit, and the decay of life. It are feelings we all have in the course of our lives, and thus very recognizable. And the remarkable thing is that the author does not really do much to hand out the blow. His style is not spectacular at all, on the contrary, Salter usually writes in very short sentences, sometimes just a few words,
I could list quite a few little details in this book of things that are missing or that don't add up, things that might annoy me....... but none of them do! "How does she earn her living? How does she have money for that?" fleeted through my head on several occasions! They are just not all that important! She did somehow, and I am satisfied with that. I really, really liked the book! It moved me. At the end I had tears in my eyes.

Why is this? It is because the words create a mood, a feel of a t
Beth Bonini
When I was growing up, in a medium-sized town in Texas, there was a family that everyone admired. They had three beautiful daughters, all of them smart, talented and lively, and one son - the youngest child, presumably longed for. The father was a doctor, the mother was a sort of mistress of the arts: she sang, acted, sculpted, sewed, cooked, entertained, and did it all of it notably well, and on a scale that seemed grand for our town. The family seemed to have more fun than other families; they ...more
Feb 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Salter is a special writer, and this is another special work. One of those quiet novels that speaks volumes. Nedra and Viri are complex characters; Nedra with her desperate desire for freedom, and Viri with his dependence and insecurities. At first I struggled with Nedra, but then I realized that while she is certainly selfish, she is also courageous. Viri, meanwhile, is the opposite; polite but cowardly.

This novel is really about change. About the fact that things will never be able to remain
Feb 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Utterly shattering. Even better than Salter's A Sport And A Pastime, which I adored. So rich in words, ideas, emotion and images that it almost hurts to read. Poetry as prose that nails with equal precision descriptions of a landscape or a street as it does the complex vagueries of the human heart. An elliptical look at twenty years in the lives of a man, a woman, their two daughters and their circle of friends in New York and abroad in and around the 1960s. The breakup of a marriage; the realiz ...more
Amanda Rose
Feb 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book felt like a punch to the gut. When I finished it, I felt as though I'd lost people who had very quickly become an important part of my life. I have never read anything that more accurately and intimately described the truth about relationships. I skimmed other reviews by readers, and noticed that a few people pointed out that the characters are somewhat unlikeable. This is a personal quirk of mine, but I have very rarely really liked characters, or even people I meet, that are genuinel ...more
Apr 25, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top-bananas
Rating: 4🍌

Viri and Nedra are prosperous New Yorkers who live in a farmhouse on the Hudson River. They have two daughters, Danny and Franca, a dog, chickens. They have money, a comfortable home, a summer place, gourmet palates, refined intellectual tastes, and enormous stores of knowledge about art and philosophy. Viri is an architect who dreams of fame like Gaudi or Wren; Nedra is an intelligent woman who fills her days shopping, making crafts, cooking, and dreaming of another life, preferably o
May 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Published in 1975, “Light Years” opened with a lyrical description of the Hudson River: broken water, bluish winter's day, and birds punctuating the colorless skies. The opening pages held me spell-bound and I knew I would very much enjoy Salter’s luminous prose. In fact, I found myself re-reading lines and relishing their elegance.

“Light Years”, however, is not an easy novel to read. It is about a marriage that was ailing and that eventually fell apart. That all was not well with the Berlands w
Kimberly Faith
Sep 13, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Salter analyzes marriage and the merits of independence vs. dependence. But, the novel is really a study of time. We know these characters through pin-points over twenty years. The writing is often stunning particularly as the characters travel through Europe in search of themselves and their true happiness. Salter is often oblique but because of this spare hand, some choices really mesmerize. He pays great attention to the changing of seasons and these shifts mark big changes for the characters ...more
It certainly is a window into a marriage, and the lives of these people. And at times there is lyrical nuance perfected for a moment, a view, a interchange. But it predominantly seems all a product of random happenstance and increasing disenchantment as time unfolds. Always there is the background specter. Sometimes he looks like boredom, financial failure, disinterest. And other times he looks like sickness, or death. Or despair.

It is poignant. But there is something about the short sentence s
Jul 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is so beautifully written, so evocative -- not for everyone, I'm sure. The characters are held at a distance, and aren't always likeable. But there are these occasional, intimate glimpses.

I think I loved it for the language and setting. Moments like this: the father tells his little girls that he found their missing pony, Urusla, in the lake. He tells the girls that Urusla was swimming. The pony was looking for onions that grow along the bottom of the lake, she was stirring up the oni
robin friedman
Nov 29, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
James Salter's Light Years

In prose that is incomparably lyrical and poetical, James Salter's novel "Light Years" (1975) tells the story of the deterioration of a marriage, of the nature of love and passion, and of the passage of time. Salter (b. 1926), a graduate of West Point and a former combat pilot, remains comparatively little-known among American writers. This book was my first exposure to his work.

The book spans a period of about twenty years, from 1958 through 1977. The United States cha
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James Salter (1925 - 2015) was a novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter. Salter grew up in New York City and was a career officer and Air Force pilot until his mid-thirties, when the success of his first novel (The Hunters, 1957) led to a fulltime writing career. Salter’s potent, lyrical prose earned him acclaim from critics, readers, and fellow novelists. His novel A Sport and a Pastime ( ...more

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“Their life is mysterious, it is like a forest; from far off it seems a unity, it can be comprehended, described, but closer it begins to separate, to break into light and shadow, the density blinds one. Within there is no form, only prodigious detail that reaches everywhere: exotic sounds, spills of sunlight, foliage, fallen trees, small beasts that flee at the sound of a twig-snap, insects, silence, flowers.
And all of this, dependent, closely woven, all of it is deceiving. There are really two kinds of life. There is, as Viri says, the one people believe you are living, and there is the other. It is this other which causes the trouble, this other we long to see.”
“The book was in her lap; she had read no further. The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers. She was excited, filled with strength. The polished sentences had arrived, it seemed, like so many other things, at just the right time. How can we imagine what our lives should be without the illumination of the lives of others?” 47 likes
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