Long ago (it appeared here in 1967) James Salter wrote one of the few genuinely erotic books--A Sport and a Pastime--within memory. Light Years has much of his sensuous elegance and ease, subdued by the years which also lend the primary distancing effect--there is almost none of that insatiable fever of the flesh. And while there's a general quality of discreet opulence (Durrell, mentioned en passant, will have crossed your mind) he can deliver one of the most clearly lyrical and chaste lines around--there are white mornings, perhaps too many of them, ""white as paper."" Or, ""The birds, like punctuation, are crossing in level flight."" He's a novelist of mood and montage--everything recedes in slow dissolves. Like the marriage of Nedra and Viri which provides the central frame--its ""familiarity"" affirmed by holidays and by children. ""But the rest is dead"" Nedra and Viri acknowledge inwardly--each takes a lover having found that ""Love is movement. . . It is changing."" Death also is everywhere: that of her father by cancer; that of a friend: and finally Nedra's--alone, overcome by the same disease after a last visit from one daughter. Children seem to give some meaning to life (the extension of self, the promise of a better one) but once they move on, there seems little point in existence. Salter's novel is stippled with referrals--French, Russian, Italian--with subtle foods and wines and sophisticated accessories. They all lend tone but here, as against the earlier novel, there is a certain pale loitering. Can ii be that all pleasures (and hedonism is certainly Salter's forte) cease in the premonitory overcast of the late middle years?