After Long Wait, Novelist James Salter Shares 'All That Is'

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On the list of great postwar American male novelists — along with Philip Roth, Norman Mailer and John Updike — is James Salter.

With the publication of his first book in 1957, he won the admiration of writers and critics alike. But after 1979, his production slowed. Salter still wrote — essays, short stories, poetry — but nothing on a grander scale.

Now, that long-awaited novel has been published. All That Is sets out to give a sweeping portrait of human experience.

The novel introduces the reader right away to Philip Bowman, the main character. Bowman was born in 1925, raised as an only child, served in World War II and divorced from his first wife — all as Salter did.

Salter says the similarity is "suspicious, but it's also superficial." He tells Arun Rath, guest host of weekends on All Things Considered, that the character is more heavily influenced by editors he's known. These real-life characters helped shape Bowman's personality, appearance and direction.


Interview Highlights

On his character's observation that the 'power of the novel in the nation's culture has weakened'

"I guess I believe it. My feelings are probably more sentimental than rational. The culture is what it is. It reforms itself, it is freshened by certain things, it is polluted by other things, and it continually revives and presents itself. So it's an unfortunate thing for a certain kind of novelist, or maybe for an older novelist. But apart from that, I don't know if it's a grave thing."

On his first novel, The Hunters, being turned into a film

"It was agony. I mean, I thought the film was a catastrophe — only because I'd written the book, and I naturally could hear dialogue from the book, I knew the people in the book, what they looked like, so forth. But in the movie, they had to make their own accommodations. ... From a practical point of view, it was a godsend. ... I wouldn't have been able to live and write for four or five years if it weren't for that."

On the possibility of being an influence for a long time to come

"I think if you have anything that's read 20 years after your death, you've accomplished something considerable. Beyond that, it's impossible to say."

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