ALL THAT IS by James Salter

ALL THAT IS

KIRKUS REVIEW

In his first fiction since the story collection Last Night (2005), the acclaimed veteran author chronicles the life and loves of a Manhattan book editor over a 40-year period. 

Okinawa, 1945. The Americans and Japanese are preparing for the climactic battle of the Pacific. Salter’s sweep is panoramic but his eye, God-like, is also on the sparrow, a 20-year-old officer in the U.S. Navy, Philip Bowman. It’s a stunning opening, displaying a mastery of scale that will not be repeated. Bowman is the protagonist: loyal, conscientious, a virgin (there’s no rush), from a modest home in New Jersey. He’s very close to his schoolteacher mother (father absconded in his infancy). After Harvard, Bowman is hired by the high-principled owner of a small literary publishing house. He meets Vivian at a bar. She’s from Virginia, part of a rich, horsey set. As lovers, they transcend mortality, becoming gods and goddesses. Everyday life is more difficult. Bowman believes the unlettered Vivian, now his bride, is educable; she’s not. At a Christmas house party in Virginia, the young couple is obscured by hard-drinking minor characters with easy morals. The narrative is studded with these striking vignettes; in retrospect, they’re a swirling mass, losing their particularity. In London on a business trip, Bowman meets a married woman, just as rich, and scales new heights of passion with her; their affair will fizzle out, like his marriage to Vivian. Bowman’s work gets less attention. Salter writes with cosmopolitan ease but avoids the nitty-gritty of the business; Bowman floats above all that, while somehow acquiring the respect of his peers. His third great passion is a disaster. An ill-defined American woman with a teenage daughter appears to be his soul mate; then she cheats on him. Four years later, Bowman uses the daughter in a shockingly cruel way; to make matters worse, this thoughtful man fails to examine his conduct. Without his self-knowledge, there is nothing to knit the novel together.

There are incidental pleasures here but, overall, a disappointing return.

Pub Date: April 2nd, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-400-04313-2
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2013




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