Thursday, January 19, 2017

Last Night: stories by James Salter

Last Night is a collection of 10 meticulously-crafted stories of betrayal, secrets, and lies. Reminiscent of Raymond Carver and J.D. Salinger, Salter creates characters who are unhappy, hurtful, and wholly unlikeable. Yet they are also flawed in completely recognizable ways. Even when their actions are unfathomable, the thoughts and emotions that lead them to make bad choices are the same that motivate most people’s decisions: love (or the idea of it), fear, loneliness, and desperation.

Fear and loneliness are heartbreakingly revealed in the story “Such Fun” where three women have drinks, gossip, and complain about their (privileged) lives while ultimately revealing very little of their true selves or motivations. In the end, one of them ends up leaving the party early and telling her cab driver that she’s just been diagnosed with inoperable cancer. Salter doesn’t reveal why she keeps this from her friends and chooses to tell a stranger, instead the reader is left to form their own conclusion.

Each story is distilled down to only the most necessary information, giving the reader a feeling that they’ve walked in on the middle of a private conversation. The penultimate entry “Arlington” reveals the decline and fall of a young army officer’s promising career in just two short scenes. A tale that might have taken hundreds of pages for another author is expertly whittled down to just 7 pages.

For me, a truly great short story is like a painting where only a brief moment in time is captured but so much emotion can be revealed. Like the paintings of Edward Hopper, Last Night is melancholy, haunting, vaguely lonely, and stays with you long after you walk away. 


No comments: