(3zsA tour de force of erotic realism, a romantic cliff-hanger; an opaline vision of Americans in France. . . . A Sport and a Pastime succeeds as art must. It tells us about ourselves.(3y s?The New York Times Book Review 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. This ebook features an illustrated biography of James Salter including rare photos from the author?s personal collection.
The narrator is a 34-year-old American living in France, who meets Phillip Dean, a 21-year-old dropout from Yale who is bouncing around, making it up as he goes along. Dean is everything the narrator is not. While the narrator is impotent to approach a woman named Claude who, “when she walks, leaves me weak”, Dean picks up and begins a highly sexual relationship with 18-year-old Anne-Marie, a French girl who turns out to be highly complaisant in bed.
The narrator describes acts between the two that he couldn’t possibly know. There is nothing inconsistent about this, for at the outset he warns that “none of this is true…I’m sure you’ll come to realize that.” Later, in the middle of the book, he says “I am not telling the truth about Dean, I am inventing him. I am creating him out of my own inadequacies, you must always remember that”, and at the end, it’s “one must have heroes, which is to say, one must create them.”
This creates a few different possibilities for what’s “real”; the entire thing could be the imaging of the narrator, or perhaps it’s just what Dean and Anne-Marie are like in bed which is the subject of his fantasies. The story is enjoyable regardless. The prose is spare and yet often beautiful, though Salter tends to fall in love with the use of similes, some of which are more successful than others, at least in this book.
The character of Dean reminds me of Kerouac’s Dean Moriarty; the narrator describes him as having a life which seems “more truthful”, and “even able to draw mine to it like the pull of a dark star.” Dean does not care what others think, and is “close to the life that flows, is transient, borne away … joined to the brevity of things.” He gets what he wants out of his friends and family, borrowing an expensive car and money from several of them, as well as what he wants out of Anne-Marie in bed. The book has many highly erotic descriptions of sex, and a taboo act in particular. Anne-Marie is completely willing, but there is an element of hope in her which seems doomed from the beginning given Dean’s rambling nature. For “All of Anne-Marie’s joy proceeds from the hope that they are only beginning, that before them is marriage and farewell to Autun, while like the negative from which her dreams are printed, he perceives the opposite. For Dean, every hour is piercing because it is closer to the end.”
In this sense, it’s the tragedy of life which passes all too soon, and of young love that is often fleeting, despite its purity and intensity.
“…it’s impossible to control these dreams. The forbidden ones are incandescent – they burn through resolutions like cloth. I cannot stop them even if I want to. I cannot make them vanish. They are brighter than the day that surrounds me.”
And this one, on the delicacy of describing a fantasy to a lover:
“…they stroll in the mild sunlight and talk of the ways to love, the sweet variety.
‘What are they?’ she wants to know.
Dean begins casually, arranging as he does a bouquet of alternatives to conceal the one he really desires. He has said it a hundred times to himself, rehearsing, but still his heart skips.”
On love, and that moment when it comes into question:
“There are terrible moments in which one sees love with cold eyes.”
“…I try to watch her, to isolate elements of that stunning sexuality, but it’s like memorizing the reflections of a diamond.”
On middle age:
“She’s not young, but rather in the midst of that last and most confident beauty, like the mother of a schoolmate. You see her emerging from a car, the flash of an elegant calf, and you are tumbled into unbearable love.”
On old age:
“He no longer lives in years; he is down to seasons. Finally it will become single nights, each one perilous as a lunar journey.”
I loved this one:
“As his prick goes into her, he discovers the world. He knows the source of numbers, the path of the stars.”
In another encounter, and perhaps similar:
“In the great, secret provinces where she then exists, stars are falling like confetti, the skies turn white.”
After a description of an act which I’ll spare you:
“It is these exchanges which cement them, that is the terrible thing. These atrocities induce them towards love.”
And this joke, on English sex, uttered while observing a quiet English couple:
“…they sit in an utter, English silence reading the menu as if it were a contract. In an accent so perfect it surprises me, Anne-Marie whispers,
‘Did I hurt you darling?’
It’s a line from a joke Dean’s told her. Her face is full of mischievous joy. But I don’t know the original story. She delivers it with the assurance of a clown. That’s what he says, she explains. They’re in bed together. Then she says: no, why? And he says: you moved.”
“It’s in the little towns that one discovers a country, in the kind of knowledge that comes from small days and nights.”
I’ve never read another book quite like this one – it’s written through the eyes of an observer (the protagonist’s friend) whose narrative is undermined by his own frank admissions of unreliability and invention. It’s an odd setup, and quite pretentious, but it’s redeemed by the quality of description in many passages, which of course are in the words of the nameless narrator, who’s a writing virtuoso, yet sad and not a little creepy; he’s essentially a eunuch who can’t quite believe or accept his friend’s sexual power and mastery.
One aspect of this book that a responsible reviewer must note is its frequent sexual content. It’s not gratuitous; indeed the ‘progress’ in the couple’s sexual activities is the central metaphor driving the story, as it were. But although Salter is never obscene, he is often graphic and vulgar, as human life so often must be.
Recommended, but for mature readers.
It begins with a "luminous" September with still lengthy days and in a city filling with crowds after their August retreats suggesting that the unnamed narrator is making the right choice as he boards the train to depart the city. As he begins his train ride the sun hitting his face leads him to sleep. While he wakes as the train slows it is as if the scenes he shares are merely a continuation of his dreams. He admits: "None of this is true . . . I am only putting down details which entered me, fragments that were able to part my flesh. It's a story of things that never existed although even the faintest doubt of that, the smallest possibility, plunges everything into darkness."(p 11)
Reminiscent of Ford's The Good Soldier, our narrator is unreliable and his tale may be taken as a story that may not have happened or at least not happened quite exactly as depicted by the narrator.
Swiftly we meet the narrator's friend Dean and are introduced to the ingenue Ann Marie and the memories of the small French towns, the Summer evenings, speeding down the highway in Dean's borrowed roadster carry you forward while the many brief liaisons of Dean and Anne Marie acquire a status that they would never have if they occurred on the lower east side of Manhattan. Even at Yale, for Dean is an Eli, they would seem tawdry at best, but the ability of the narrator to portray the indescribable beauty of France elevates the story to a better place. However all is not so clear upon reflection for while Dean is no innocent, Anne Marie may not be either. One cloud that is always haunting Dean is the need for money to fuel his journey with Anne Marie. He is a poor English tutor (is there any other kind?) who depends upon his wealthy Father for funds and when his Father is not forthcoming he begs for loans from his friends. The days and nights, various towns and country lanes blend together as the story speeds toward a denouement that must be left for the reader to discover on his own.
In 1959, only eight years before the publication of A Sport and a Pastime, the Grove Press brought out their American edition of Lady Chatterley's Lover. The erotic realism of Salter's novel owes at least part of its heritage to the liberation made possible by that earlier milestone. Salter's prose is as beautiful as any I have read and with that beauty he transports you to a French land of dreams both light and dark. "The orchestras of the world beat softly" in the night as the lovers at midnight share their being.
This is a magnificent short novel that begs to be reread if only to share its haunting beauty and experience again the charms of its magic.
I'm not sure how I feel about this book. At times the clipped sentences are effectively evocative; at other times I found myself rereading them, inserting and deleting commas to make them sound correct in my mind. There isn't an involved plot but rather repetition masquerading as action - driving and dining and f---ing. And you have to describe it as f---ing. There isn't an illusion of romance or love in the story, except perhaps the narrator's (to me) out-of-place "Days of marriage" ramblings during their final trip to the coast, which I'm inclined to believe are the lies he tells himself to avoid looking beyond his naked reflection he too often enjoys looking at in the mirror. And yet I never considered setting this book aside, disappointment though it turned out to be.
I'm not curious enough to verify this, but I believe Anne-Marie is the only character who calls Phillip by his given name. If Salter's intent in having the narrator consistently refer to him as Dean was to imbue the story with a sense of detachment, it worked for me. I'm also ambivalent about the choice of first person narration. Coupled with the lack of clarity in his narrator's background, the voyeuristic nature of his storytelling left me without a character to feel strongly for or against and without a deeper involvement in the story of a desultory season in France with Dean and the nondescript receptacle of his indifference than in the list of hotels they create for their various excursions. Dean's death at the end of the book isn't tragic; in fact, it isn't even necessary. Rather, Salter lets his protagonist escape without having to live down to our expectation that one day of not writing to Anne-Marie will become one week will become one year will become forever.
Like another reviewer I pulled this book from a list in Esquire and have to wonder what it was the list-maker found worthy of recommendation. I found if on a winter's night a traveler much more sensuous without the grating specificity of pricks and vaseline and tampons. If this book is on your list, read it when you get to it and have run out of top tier fiction. It has its moments but its sum is less than its parts.
Okay I read this book and while the prose was terrific, I couldn't really tell you what the book's about :)
It's a little too deep for a reader like me!
Over the story hangs intimations of tragedy, regret, unrealistic expectations, and envy - but most of all, longing for the roads not taken (about fantasizing over the potential sweetness of those roads, despite their pitfalls) and the inability to travel them due to the human conditions of insecurity, and unrealistic (but enviable) opportunity.
The book is never pornographic (but is frequently erotic in a touching, though unreliably idealized, way). The narrator isn't portrayed as non-straight. It isn't sexist (Anne-Marie is sex positive, and jokes about English sex being stodgy). Using the word "nigger" and expressing casual fascination of black people and their relationships in early 1960's France (among a bilingual couple, no less) isn't racist. However, each of these (As Seen On Goodreads!) accusations contains the seeds of potentially productive conversations on the subjects - a praiseworthy achievement for Salter.