doing a mahatma, james salter’s paris review interview online

The Art of Fiction No. 133 ManuscriptOh the lengths I indulged to get a copy of this a few years ago! I love an excuse to return to Salter and his Paris Review interview from the Summer 1993 issue [127 The Art of Fiction no. 133] being online now is enough for me. Here’s a tiny bit of it extracted from my rather long essay [Meeting James Salter];

In the Paris Review interview of 1993 Salter said “I’ve never had a story in The New Yorker, everything has been rejected.” Of the 11 stories in Dusk -half of which are classics of the form- 9 were rejected by The New Yorker. He didn’t think to submit the other two.

By the time of a Salon interview in 2005, perceptions have changed. Now, with the recent appearance of Last Night, a slice of pure, masterly Salter in it, he’s asked if “The New Yorker ever turned you down?” “Oh, sure. Oh, certainly,” he says with some glee, adding “as a matter of fact I take some pride in that.” Salter had to exceed his natural life span -that is, live on after his expected death- to arrive, whilst most of his critics have him down as a typical insider of the magazine, an Updike or Cheever. That they’ve finally caught up, allowed him in, does not diminish the work.

Last Night is not a story that should be summarised because its twisting turns produce the heady delight of actual shock. But quite possibly it exceeds anything he’s written for its combination of absolutes like devotion and deceitful desire in a solution of life’s true complexity. MK Gandhi -the Mahatma- wrote of how he slipped away from his dying father’s bedside to have sex with his young wife, only to return too late. Last Night takes things several steps beyond this dreadfully funny fix…

> A link to the full interview is here.

> A link to their current crop of interviews from the 2000s is here -including Harry Mathews, Anne Carson, Guy Davenport, Marilynne Robinson, Shirley Hazzard, Javier Marias, Paula Fox oh and that’s just a skim. I’ll have to refresh my memory of most of these…

> Salter’s great first collection of stories Dusk and Other Stories is finally back in print [HB] with the Modern Library and so only available remotely in the UK.

> The PR has also now put up the first story from that collection, Am Strande von Tanger, which they published in 1968 here. Starts like this; “Barcelona at dawn. The hotels are dark. All the great avenues are pointing to the sea.” Read it!

> Salter’s second collection Last Night, which contains the story mentioned above, is mentioned here in an earlier post with my review of it from The Independent. Bizarrely Picador UK seem to have let it go out of print; there’s no record of it on their site. Usual online sources, then…

> The story Last Night is also up on the New Yorker’s site [and -you know- I love the New Yorker too, of course. It’s just that by the time something/someone is ready for the NY, it has become acceptable/established, corners all washed off, etc. I’m certain that the NY is perfectly happy with that…] here. It ends like this; “Whatever holds people together was gone. She told him she could not help it. That was just the way it was.” but as I say above… You’ve gotta read it!

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