Matt Simmons's Reviews > Light Years

Light Years by James Salter
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's review
Jul 13, 2011

it was amazing
Read from July 13 to 19, 2011

It is exceptionally easy, and perhaps even exceptionally banal, to call James Salter's writing “lyrical.” Yet, that is exactly the feeling you get in reading Light Years—that of the lyric, the poem. While “poetic” in its language throughout, the novel feels most acutely “lyrical” for its first half, like a series of poems, somehow and perhaps only slightly related, brief glimpses into and mediations on the lives of an interesting-yet-venal people, concerned with their lovers, with the “fascinating” and “interesting” companions and acquaintances they make, who are artist, bon-vivants, and other such stock characters from the great novels of the lives of the well-to-do. But, like so much great poetry, there is a deep, astounding darkness beneath of the surface, a surface that soon loses the ability to hide anything, and the darkness announces itself, triumphant. And then, something changes.

We have been, throughout the novel, disconnected from the characters; Salter effects this, through, amongst other techniques, the odd, unfamiliar names. It is not that they are simply not Anglo names, but rather that they are names totally unfamiliar, without place, without gender, without relation to the world; these are enigmatic names for enigmatic people. Yet, we suddenly feel heartbroken, we feel their pain, we experience their darkness alongside them. And this novel of affairs and dinner parties becomes a novel of the dangers of pursuing ones ostensible dreams, of being seduced by those things that we seek for in life, but that ultimately stand outside of life. The early meeting with the tailor, Franca's father's death, Danny's first love, Viri's time in Rome—these are unforgettable scenes, moments that rank among some of the greatest I've read. This is a novel that is romantic and painful, funny and erotic, deeply sexual, yet ultimately conservative in its morality. It is a tricky book; it seems so beautiful but so forgettable for the longest time, but that comes around and forces you to live inside its dream world. And like a powerful dream, some things are inevitably confused and forgotten, but some are always there, and the feel, the sensation of the dream is with you forever.
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Reading Progress

07/18/2011 page 224
09/20/2016 marked as: read

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