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

Play associated audio

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."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

NPR

For Penn & Teller's Magical Partnership, The Trick Is Telling The Truth

The duo Penn Jillette and Raymond Teller are back on Broadway. They both talk — yes, even Teller — with NPR's Scott Simon about magic, danger and the remarkable endurance of their 40-year partnership.
NPR

At The Purple Pie Place, Where The Crusts Are Just Sweet Enough

Bobkat's Purple Pie Place is a fixture in Custer, S.D. From chicken pot pie to strawberry rhubarb, Trevor Yehlie and his family have been baking and serving pies at the local favorite since 2009.
NPR

Empire Strikes PAC And Other Punny SuperPAC Names

My Cat Xavier For a Better Tomorrow, Tomorrow superPAC backed Hank the Cat in the 2012 Virginia Senate election. Xavier also cared about naps, treats, and prison reform.
NPR

Despite Host Controversy, Amazon Takes A Chance On 'Top Gear'

The trio that made Top Gear the world's biggest car show will return to the small screen in a new show for Amazon Prime. The BBC canned one of its hosts last year after a fight with a producer.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.