“Light Years” by James Salter Review

Light Years

Light Years

Author:  James Salter

Released:  1975

I picked this one up because it’s also recommended in the Start Here books, and because out of the 50 books I read The Hunters was my favorite. The writing in The Hunters was excellent, with beautiful prose and an interesting plot and an ending that really gutted me. Comparatively, Light Yearsfeatured unlikable characters and flowery language that constantly took me out of the book.

Light Years tells the story of Viri and Nedra, a married couple, and their two daughters Franca and Danny, and their friends that come in and out of their lives as well as their other relationships. Viri is an architect and Nedra is likely very beautiful, and they seem successful enough but most of their unhappiness revolves around how Viri is not famous enough and Nedra is searching for more out of life. Most of the story is through conversations jumping around through the years, with time being measured by how old the dog is getting, or which holiday is passing next. The married couple grows apart and and the dog dies and the girls move out. Nobody is happy.

My biggest gripe with this book was Salter’s writing style. The main characters are routinely referred to as He and She, and Salter seems to love writing sentences with the idea of putting off providing essential information to the reader. Routinely there would be sentences like “Of course, it was his daughter waiting for him.” Well, Viri has two daughters. Which one is it? Tune in to the next paragraph to find out. Chapter two begins:

In the morning the light came in silence. The house slept. The air overhead, glittering, infinite, the moist earth beneath- one could taste this earth, its richness, its density, bathe in the air like a stream. Not a sound. The rind of the cheese had dried like bread. The glasses held the stale aroma of vanished wine.

In the empty dining room hung the expulsion from Eden, a painting filled with beasts and a forest like Rousseau’s from which two figures were emerging, the man still proud, the woman no less so. She was graceful, only half in shame, she was irreverent, her flesh gleamed. Even in the early light which deprived the marvelous serpent of colors, the trees of their fruit, she was recognizable, at least to the painting’s owner, her legs, the boldness of her body hair, its very life. It was Kaya.

It goes on for 6 more paragraphs, and then continues “He wakes to find his wife sleeping on her stomach…” and I’m sitting around trying to figure out who “she” is in the context of the dream. Throughout the book, Salter will change which characters are with who and have you read several paragraphs before figuring out who is present for a conversation this time. Yeah the language is pretty, but I’m not a fan of having to puzzle away at who the hell I’m reading about.

The introduction to the book by Richard Ford talks about how great Salter’s writing is and that those that criticize it for being “arty for art’s sake, concealing an absence of something crucial,” are typical American’s who require our work to be uglier. Judging by the high average rating on Goodreads, I’m in the minority on my view of the writing but this was not a book I enjoyed reading.


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