James Salter’s primary concerns are the achievement of perfection and the integrity of the individual. He is more interested in how people live than in what success they achieve. Salter’s novels stress that whatever perfection is achieved is in any case transitory. Age or death destroys skills and whatever grace his characters discover or embody. This reality does not mean that the struggle is useless; it is part of the human being’s glory to struggle for something higher in the face of imperfect human nature.
The Hunters, Salter’s first novel, draws on his Air Force experience. The hero is Cleve Saville, a veteran pilot who has come to Korea to fly Air Force jets against the Russian MIGs. As an experienced pilot, Cleve is also called upon to train an unsuccessful flight of young pilots. Cleve’s first conflict is with Lieutenant Sheedy. Sheedy is good at self-promotion; he makes a number of dubious claims about shooting down Russian MIGs. His wingman is very cooperative, supporting claims that cannot be confirmed. The commander of the squadron, Colonel Dutch Imil, is eager to accept these dubious claims because they enhance his reputation and that of the group. The conflict comes to a head when Cleve overhears Sheedy rewriting the description of a kill in order to get the Distinguished Flying Cross rather than a lesser Air Medal. This represents a violation of the code of the warrior by which Cleve lives:...
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