Dusk and Other Stories

Dusk and Other Stories

by James Salter

Virtuosic and exquisitely compressed, these stories show Salter at his best.The collection received the 1989 PEN/Faulkner Award.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Short Stories
  • Rating: 4.01
  • Pages: 157
  • Publish Date: April 1st 1989 by North Point Press
  • Isbn10: 0865473897
  • Isbn13: 9780865473898

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I wouldnt want a woman who hadnt already lived a few lives, and so the title story Dusk, and Foreign Shores, stories of durable divorcees, autumn roses, seemed to me the most effective (affective is what I mean). I turned to the final story, Dirt, last night, expecting it to do no more than elegantly divert that last half hour of consciousness, dance in the remaining half inch of my nightcap.

Dusk and Other Stories includes eleven stories: "Am Strande von Tanger", "Twenty Minutes", "American Express", "Foreign Shores", "The Cinema", "Lost Sons", "Akhnilo", "Dusk", "Via Negativa", "The Destruction of the Goetheanum", and "Dirt". The author frequently relates the stories of American expatriates living in Europe. Although he wasn't exactly an expatriate, Salter spent his many years of military service (in the 1940s and 50s) in Europe, where he undoubtedly met many American expatriates and overheard a great many stories. The narrator may be omnipresent (if I remember correctly, the stories are all told in the third person), but important details are often conveyed from one character to another - rather than directly witnessed to the reader. Salter's stories may be rooted in the exploration of character, but he knows as well as the best writers of his generation that the best outlet for revealing character is conflict. Irksome details that the stories would be better without. Salter's female perspective, however, lacks the insight of a story about a woman written by a woman. The story is about a woman in the "dusk" of her years. The story is well written, but the desperation of its character is a bit obvious. A bit obvious, too, is the desperation of the woman in "Twenty Minutes". In both stories, this desperation serves to reveal character. Indeed, the author worked as a scriptwriter and a filmmaker in the same period these stories were written. More overtly, his love of film is evident in stories like "The Cinema" that deal directly with the cinematic arts, dropping names like Fellini, dropping references like The Bicycle Thief... I found two of the later stories, "Via Negativa" and "The Destruction of the Goetheanum", to be somewhat indulgent. Indeed, "Via Negativa" is particularly indulgent, following the kind of failed writer who believes "there is a great, final glory which falls on certain figures barely noticed in their time..." (pg. 105) What saves this particular story from succumbing to its own indulgences is the ambiguity of the author's portrayal of his protagonist. Does Salter believe, as his protagonist believes, that obscurity is rewarded? (who, as the protagonist points out, "died a virgin", thereby serving as the perfect role model for protagonist who believes in purity, whose chastity remains untouched by the corruption influences of mainstream audiences and mass market appeal.) That he lingers outside of closed shops and experiences "a great longing for money" and "a desire to be recognized" draws comparison to the protagonists of Brautigan's "1/3, 1/3, 1/3", desperate misfits who "pound at the gates of American literature". Unlike these misfits, however, Salter's protagonist must retain his pretensions by absolving his obscurity with quotes from other great misfits (like Cocteau who said: "There's a fame worse than failure." - pg. Salter is the champion of his protagonist in "Via Negativa". We learn of his loves and exploits through Salter, the objective and omnipresent narrator. When the protagonist tells his "big fish" stories we know they are "big fish" stories because Salter has told us otherwise. Whereas the writer of "The Destruction of the Goetheanum" is not the protagonist but the husband of the love interest of the protagonist. We are so removed that when the wife of the writer indulges his exploits, there remains all the ambiguity, all the mystery, and all the obscurity that the protagonist of "Via Negativa" lacks. And in this way, Salter sets up the writer of "The Destruction of the Goetheanum" for a fall, for a destruction comparable to the destruction of the "Goetheanum" - which was appropriately enough a structure built on ideas, the ideas of Goethe. When the protagonist finally meets her literary husband, he too proves unreliable. Their relevance to the characters individually, interpersonally, and geographically (the location playing a central role in the story of three Expatriates)... He has a deep attachment to it based in part on a story by Paul Morand and also on an incident which occurred in Barcelona years before: one evening in the twilight Antonio Gaudi, mysterious, fragile, even saintlike, the citys great architect, was hit by a streetcar as he walked to church. Malcolm has walked, in the calm Barcelona evening, around this empty monument many times.

These are stories demanding to be read again. There were moments reading these stories when the prose slipped over the page like a double layer of velum. It wouldn't be fair to call Salter's prose arduous, his project is more satisfying than that, rather, while reading I often had the experience of losing my engagement - my eyes scanned over the words while my mind wandered and when I "awoke" I had to go back and find the sentence where I derailed in order to start again.

These books all have the flickering hyper-vividness of cinema, the atmospherics, the jump-cut acuity, and that swift, skimming telegraphic emotion that gives a sense of immense depth to surfaces. Especially relevant is when Gourevitch notes: These books all have the flickering hyper-vividness of cinema, the atmospherics, the jump-cut acuity, and that swift, skimming telegraphic emotion that gives a sense of immense depth to surfaces." Im currently reading a collection of Salters letters and was surprised to discover that his involvement with the film business was deeper than I first believed. In his short stories the language is spare, elegant but capable of such depth.

His descriptions of environments are at times random, reminiscent of a camera's eye.For me, Slater is a writer I will read and reread.

A collection of short stories by the master of spare, beautiful prose. All in all, reading Salter's work the reader will experience life dissolving events, disillusionment, desperation, the sheer ordinariness of life.

Although I can see, intellectually, that James Salter is a talented writer, these stories failed to touch me emotionally or creatively. Salter is very much a writer of moods - indeed, each of these pieces is like a different slice of atmospheric moodiness, usually melancholy, uncertain, searching for a resolution that never really comes. He is also a writer of complex thoughts, and these are the moments that I liked best in his work. It's there in so many other great American short story writers - yes, Poe, Hawthorne, James, all the classics.

4.5 An excellent collection of short stories several of which I read more than once. Some notes on individual short stories I particularly liked: Am Strande von Tanger - set in Barcelona - a couple sharing an apartment. A friend (hers) a German woman comes over and the three of them go to the beach for the day - so little happens on the surface - yet beneath it everything shifts in the couple's relationship, the woman has completely changed the dynamics of the relationship. It may well join my growing list of favourite ever short stories. A divorced woman lives along in a house on the beach tastefully furnished. The odd-job man comes to call, to check if she needs any repairs done before the winter. Akhnilo might be the best story in the book - very powerful.

The work tends toward a concise moodiness, expressing feelings of loss and the passage of time, looking at loneliness in the midst of material comfort. The life of a manual laborer is surprisingly well depicted in "Dirt." I definitely plan to read some more James Salter, a man who may not have sold a lot of books, but whose name is known to writers everywhere.

While I appreciate Salter's novels a bit better, where he has time and room to stretch out a bit and run, these stories are particularly well-crafted examples of the form.