This is the cover of the Penguin Classics edition of James Salter's masterpiece (yes, I can and will call it that), Light Years. It was first published in 1975 and has perhaps had a kind of "slow-burner" career ever since, gaining Salter the often voiced reputation of a "writer"s writer", whatever that may mean. I am not a writer (at least I don't publish litterature), yet I consider this to be one of the very best novels that I have read in a long time. So where does this leave us? Well let's get back to the essence, which is of course the book itself.
Light Years, whose French title, "Un Bonheur Parfait" (A Perfect Happiness") is, as so often, a bit offkey and in fact adds an ironical touch that I cannot really detect in the book itself or in its original title, is a book about the gradual decline and dissolution of a relationship, in this case a marital one. It is totally masterly in its incredibly evocative and often slightly allusory descriptions, but it is also quite relentless in the development of its story as the faults, weaknesses and self-delusions of the protagonists wear through the Fitzgerald-like veneer of their apparent happiness. I have read one other book by Salter so far (and I won't be stopping there), which is a cruel tail of an highly erotic but otherwise empty relationship, and is called A Sport and a Pastime. Salter's biographical details as a former US airforce fighter-pilot (in the Korean war) has been well documented and seem to me irrelevant to judgements on his writing, which is simply brilliant.
James Salter as a young man
Yes, the story is sad, in a sense. But it is also filled with beauty and the constant reminder that life can be very full, and that emptiness, delusions and missed opportunities are also part of that story.