Un­sung master of Amer­i­can letters, James Sal­ter, dies at 90 at the gym

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL -

Amer­i­can nov­el­ist James Sal­ter — who long la­bored with the du­bi­ous honor of be­ing “the great­est writer you’ve never read” — has died aged 90.

The for­mer U.S. fighter pi­lot who flew in the Korean War along­side the as­tro­naut Buzz Aldrin — the sec­ond man to walk on the moon — num­bered some of the cen­tury’s great­est writ­ers among his fans, in­clud­ing Saul Bel­low, Philip Roth and Joseph Heller, but he never quite con­verted crit­i­cal ac­claim into the pop­u­lar­ity he craved.

A hand­some, ram­rod-straight sports­man even into his late 80s, he died Fri­day dur­ing “a gym ses­sion” at Sag Har­bor near his home in Bridge­hamp­ton in New York State, his French pub­lisher Olivier Co­hen said.

Although his first book, The Hun­ters (1956), writ­ten in be­tween dog­fights with Chi­nese fighter jets in Korea, was made into a Hol­ly­wood film star­ring Robert Mitchum, his five later nov­els had a much smaller though no less ador­ing read­er­ship.

Born on June 10, 1925 in New York as James Horowitz, he trained at the coun­try’s pres­ti­gious West Point mil­i­tary academy and sur­vived a crash-land­ing while train­ing as a US Air Force pi­lot be­fore be­ing posted to the Pa­cific.

He be­gan to write af­ter be­ing trans­ferred to France, where his lan­guidly erotic clas­sic “A Sport And A Pas­time” is set. Hav­ing ris- en to the rank of ma­jor, he left the mil­i­tary to con­cen­trate on nov­els and short sto­ries.

Far from pro­lific, Sal­ter pub­lished only six nov­els over the decades, but as his fel­low U.S. great Richard Ford wrote in the in­tro­duc­tion to his 1975 novel Light Years: “It is an ar­ti­cle of faith among read­ers of fic­tion that James Sal­ter writes Amer­i­can sen­tences bet­ter than any­body writ­ing to­day.”

Only with his last novel, All That Is, did he ac­quire any­thing like the global rep­u­ta­tion that his fans had long thought he de­served. French bookshop work­ers voted it their fa­vorite book of 2014. He won also won both the pres­ti­gious Amer­i­can Pen/Mala­mud ( 2012) and PEN/Faulkner awards (1989).

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