All That Is

James Salter's sixth novel, All That Is, begins with a gorgeous set piece about American sailors approaching Okinawa during World War II. The prose is classic Salter--lithe, concrete, varied in rhythm, fluidly descriptive ("All night in darkness the water sped past") and brusquely declarative ("Twenty days later, nearly all of them had perished"). Background context is rare and bursts of dialogue reveal the anxious hearts of men ("'Don't try to involve me in your lechery,' Brownell said"). The ensuing chapters of All That Is relate a more linear, character-focused account of Philip Bowman's life after the war as a book editor and a lover of women.

The tension between decorum and libido is a frequent novelistic subject for Salter; the scenes of ex-pat concupiscence and sexual gratification in his third novel, A Sport and a Pastime, are as literary as they are dirty. In Light Years, a more mature work, Salter uses dialogue, gesture and observations of nature to portray the effect of time on a marriage. Although All That Is covers similar territory, it is unlike these two great novels in that it is written in the past tense from a cooler perspective. Its retrospective progress through decades of Bowman's minor professional interactions and major romantic infatuations occasionally feels overly episodic, yet Salter's masterful prose remains irrefutably engaged with the existential perception of life. --Holloway McCandless, blogger at Litagogo: A Guide to Free Literary Podcasts

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