James Salter, who died in 2015 at age 90, has long had a reputation among his fellow writers for his elegant style. Two of his best-known novels are exemplars of that gift, and a collection of lectures on writing offers a glimpse into his views of the craft.
A Sport and a Pastime (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $15) traces the affair of a young American college dropout, Philip Dean, and his even younger French lover, Anne-Marie Costallat, in 1960s France. Through the eyes of an unnamed narrator who describes the couple's languid meals in cozy cafés and long drives through the French countryside, Salter delivers an unforgettable account of two lives devoted singularly to sensual pleasure, much of it of the erotic variety, alongside a gorgeous travelogue of a country for which the author had a lifelong passion.
If its predecessor excels at capturing the arc of an intense affair, then Light Years (Vintage, $16.95) does the same for a marriage over the course of two decades. In following the flourishing and demise of Nedra and Viri Berland's outwardly idyllic union, from their home in New York's Hudson River Valley to Davos and Rome, Salter offers a portrait of long-term relationships between men and women that's simultaneously incandescent and unsentimental.
In 2014, Salter became the first Kapnick Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia. The three lectures he delivered there are preserved in a slim volume, The Art of Fiction (Univ. of Virginia Press, $19.95). In it, Salter credits his literary influences, including Babel, Flaubert and Hemingway. He also offers insights into some of the granular details of novel writing, asserting that "story is at the heart of things. It's the fundamental element." These talks are the perfect apéritif after a sumptuous meal of Salter's work. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer