Enigmatic—and brilliant—writer James Salter has died. Invariably, the obituaries and online remembrances call him a “writer’s writer” and point to his reverential, if small, following. That is probably true. It’s ironic, then, that Salter’s true gift was how he was able to encompass the entire human experience.
A couple years ago I first encountered Salter in reviewing his final novel, All That Is, a work that is almost unparalleled in its hypnotism—Salter was able to cast the kind of spell that few writers for me (among them, Coetzee, Morrison, Marías, and most of all, Sebald) could cast. The beginning of All That Is, taking place on the sea during World War II, was one of the best openings to any novel I’ve read. But beyond that, All That Is, just as his most famous work A Sport and a Pastime, manage the not insignificant literary trick of hypnotism. As I wrote in my review:
Although the word “hypnotic” seems often overused in book reviews, the writing in “All That Is” demands the description. From the astonishing opening on the sea, each sentence is charming, and paragraphs cast spells. For good reason has Richard Ford described Salter as the best American sentence-writer, and for good cause has Teju Cole recently noted he “cherish[ed]” every sentence Salter wrote. Salter captures the quotidian like few can.
He will be missed.