Glimpses of a writer's past, given as though discreetly decanted. This memoir by the New York novelist (Solo Faces, 1979,...


BURNING THE DAYS: Recollection

Glimpses of a writer's past, given as though discreetly decanted. This memoir by the New York novelist (Solo Faces, 1979, etc.) and short-story writer feels more like a first-person elegy, with all the poignancy available to one who writes in advance of life's closing, A sadness, half-suppressed in the telling, flows through the pages. The tone is most persuasive whenever Salter's story itself takes melancholy turns--when, for instance, he writes of his editor-friend Ben Sonnenberg's decline from multiple sclerosis or when he alludes to his difficulties and failures as a writer. But at times the narrator seems to long to absent himself from the narrative, perhaps to escape the pain inherent in anyone's excavation of his past. At these times, lacking an integral structure, the writing loses momentum. And although the book is packed with characters--from Irwin Shaw to Robert Redford to scads of femmes fatales, portrayed with a courtly tact--it seems too often to depend on scenes and observations saturated with a rather dated literary perfume. The scent bears traces of Hemingway's literary stoicism and Fitzgerald's lyric delicacy. Many of the continental settings and scenes belong to Hemingway and Fitzgerald, too, especially those involving wartime (the West Point-educated Salter was a pilot) and Paris, where his reveries of wine, women, and belles lettres are generically familiar to a fault. Women are in general a weak point for Salter here, rarely seeming more than seductive ghosts. For instance, he writes condescendingly of Sharon Tate that ""if she was not a very good housekeeper, she was pure of heart and her flesh was a poem. One felt that she could be enjoyed in all the ways that one can enjoy a woman."" Though almost too patrician to be true, the book includes descriptions and characterizations that demonstrate how good Salter can be when he dispenses with his courtly reserve. A connoisseur's view of himself and others.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1997

ISBN: 0394759486

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Random

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1997