Author exhilarated readers by making every word matter
NEW YORK — James Salter, the prize-winning author acclaimed for his sophisticated, granular prose and sobering insights in Light Years, A Sport and a Pastime and other fiction, has died at age 90.
Salter, a lifelong brooder about impermanence and mortality, was the kind of writer whose language exhilarated readers even when relating the most distressing narratives, from A Sport and a Pastime to the stories in the 2005 release Last Night to the 2013 novel All That Is.
Salter didn’t enjoy great commercial success but was highly admired by critics and by such peers as Jhumpa Lahiri, Richard Ford and the late Peter Matthiessen, his friend and longtime neighbour on Long Island. He won the PEN/Faulkner prize for the 1988 collection Dusk and Other Stories and received two lifetime achievement honours for short story writing, the Rea Award and the PEN/Malamud prize.
Few authors compared to Salter in making every word matter. Lahiri was among those who thought he wrote some of the most perfect sentences in the English language.
“Reading Salter taught me to boil down my writing to its essence,” Lahiri once wrote.
“To insist upon the right words, and to remember that less is more. That great art can be wrought from quotidian life.”
Whether the subject was love or war, Salter wondered how we change and how we don’t change, whether there is any connection between our young selves and our older selves. Salter wrote long enough to watch himself evolve on paper, as if his works comprised a kind of parallel life that he simultaneously observed and created.
“If you were the same person in your 40s as you were as a high school sophomore you would be a very strange creation,” he said in 2005.
Salter was born James Horowitz, but as a writer became James Salter, a change that “started an entirely new life,” he said.
He was an Air Force pilot, a swimming pool salesman and a filmmaker, his credits including the short documentary Team Team Team and the feature film Three, starring Sam Waterston.