Saturday 9 August 2014

A Sport and a Pastime

Finished August 2
A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter

A friend asked if I'd read this one, and I hadn't so picked it up so I could give my opinion. First published in 1967, this book begins with an American man who leaves Paris to take up residence in Autun, in eastern France, living in the country home of friends. Soon after, a younger American, Philip Dean, that he has met through friends in Paris, comes to visit him. Dean is driving a huge older car, a 1952 Delage convertible. He makes himself at home, he makes the acquaintance of a young French woman, and the two begin a liaison. The activities of Dean and the young woman, even those of the most intimate nature, are described by the anonymous narrator as if he were present, watching, aware of the feelings Dean has, the unsure and the over-confident.
Dean is still young, with his money doled out by his father. Since his father wants him to return home to the States, his money flow reduces and then stops. He is hiding his relationship with the French woman from everyone except the narrator. The sex between them seems to be often related to power; she has the power of seduction and her youth, and he has the power of the decider and the suggestor.
I loved the description of the train journey, with everything observed. The rest, not so much.
On page 11, the novel says "none of the is true", making this a fiction within a fiction. I think the problem for me is that I didn't get a feel for the narrator, and so couldn't connect with him, and I didn't like Dean. Dean seemed for me a stereotypical wealthy American abroad, wanting both to experience the culture there, but also wanting to have others to recognize his American superiority. With Dean, as his money supply dries up, the wealth becomes an illusion, the same as his superiority. The French woman too, is here a stereotype, a woman capable of seduction, yet an innocent. She seems all surface and no depth.

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