James Salter 1925-
(Born James Horowitz) American short story writer, novelist, memoirist, and travel writer.
The following entry provides information on Salter's short fiction career from 1988 through 1998.
Published in 1988, Dusk and Other Stories is Salter's only collection of short fiction. In these stories, he combines personal experience and imagination to explore the nature of desire while illuminating the dynamics of human relationships. Utilizing elements of literary impressionism, a technique derived from painting in which atmosphere and mood are evoked through subjective observation, Salter depicts tensions within his characters' psyches, focusing particularly on obsession, sexuality, ambition, and failure. In his prose, which has been compared to that of Ernest Hemingway for its staccato rhythms and direct tone, Salter employs such devices as repetition, imagery, and episodic narration to construct adventurous plots that probe aspects of human perception and motivation.
Salter was born on June 10, 1925, and grew up in New York City. As a child, he was interested in painting and writing poetry. In high school, Salter worked on his school's literary magazine, won mention in a national poetry contest, and had poems published in Poetry magazine. After graduating in 1945, he joined the Air Force, earning an appointment to West Point, and served as a pilot for twelve years. During this time, he began to write under the pseudonym James Salter. In 1950 Salter received an M.A. in international affairs from Georgetown University. In 1951 he served in Korea for six months, flying one hundred combat missions. Salter was then assigned to duty in Germany and the United States, and spent extensive time in Europe, particularly Paris. These experiences abroad would provide material for his fictional work. After Salter's first novel, The Hunters (1956), was published, he resigned from the air force, moved to New York, and became a full-time writer. He continues to write novels and short fiction and has taught writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, the University of Houston, and Vassar. Salter lives in Aspen, Colorado, and Long Island, New York.
Major Works of Short Fiction
Salter's only short story collection, Dusk and Other Stories, assembles previously published and unpublished fiction from throughout his career. Displaying various styles, settings, and subjects, these pieces focus on many themes explored in his novels, including sexuality, desire, failure, exile, and death, while featuring shifting points of view and evocative imagery. “Am Strand von Tanger” chronicles the story of a young American artist named Malcolm living in Barcelona. Malcolm is involved with Nico, a young German woman. When Nico's friend Inge visits, Nico senses the growing attraction between the two and realizes that her life is about to change. In “American Express,” two successful and bored American lawyers on vacation in Italy try to pick up an Italian schoolgirl. Jane Vare, in “Twenty Minutes,” has been crushed by her horse falling on her. Waiting for death, she reflects on her life and lost loves. In “Foreign Shores,” a woman beset by personal problems discovers that her child's au pair has been receiving lewd letters from a pornographer. She fires the young lady, only to discover years later that the girl has attained a prominent place in society.
Critics have deemed Salter one of the more underrated writers of his time. However, Dusk and Other Stories has garnered overwhelmingly critical praise. The collection was awarded the prestigious PEN/Faulkner award in 1988. Reviewers of Dusk and Other Stories have commended Salter's spare, economic prose, finding parallels between his narrative style and the genres of painting, music, and film. A few critics have detected a French sensibility in his work. Commentators have also noted the range of setting and subject matter in the stories comprising the collection. Salter's short fiction has been compared to that of John Cheever, and the influence of such short story writers such as Anton Chekhov and Isaac Babel has been identified in his work.