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A Sport and a Pasttime

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Un himno a la sensualidad.

Juego y distracción supuso un punto de inflexión en la trayectoria de Salter y dio la medida de su maestría y ambición literarias.

La novela, que toma prestado su título de un versículo del Corán sobre la esencia de la vida terrenal, narra la historia de amor entre Phillip Dean, un universitario norteamericano que deambula por Europa, y Anne-Marie Costallat, una joven francesa de provincias. Evocada en todo su esplendor erótico, la fogosa aventura de los dos amantes nos llega a través de la imaginación de un solitario compatriota de Phillip. El desdén hacia las convenciones sociales, la entrega incondicional al placer y la indolencia aparecen aquí delineados con un lenguaje conciso.

191 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 1967

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About the author

James Salter

74 books603 followers
James Salter (1925 - 2015) was a novelist, short story writer, and screenwriter. Salter grew up in New York City and was a career officer and Air Force pilot until his mid-thirties, when the success of his first novel (The Hunters, 1957) led to a fulltime writing career. Salter’s potent, lyrical prose earned him acclaim from critics, readers, and fellow novelists. His novel A Sport and a Pastime (1967) was hailed by the New York Times as “nearly perfect as any American fiction.”

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 1,181 reviews
Profile Image for Libby.
80 reviews79 followers
December 4, 2013
First of all, this star system aggrieves me. When I hover my cursor over the stars I learn that 3 stars indicates "I liked it" and 4 stars indicates "I really liked it" etc. "Liking" has nothing to do with my sense of this novel, and in fact, isn't even germane in this instance. I didn't like this novel. I still think it's rather amazing.

This novel feels dated in its subject matter, and is beset with passages of casual racism and sexual imperialism that are repugnant to me. The story opens in 1962 (or '64?)and concerns itself with the sexual exploits of young Phillip Dean, the archetypical WASP golden boy, who is a Yale dropout drifting through Europe, and Anne-Marie, a provincial French teenager, whose sexuality (gray teeth and all) acts as a sort of lodestar for Dean's peregrinations. I couldn't care less than I do about this story, which so many readers (as evidenced by Goodreads reviews) seem to think is the meat of the matter.


This story is bookended by and filtered through the first-person narration of our unnamed narrator, a 34 year old American man, who meets Dean at a party in Paris and then hosts Dean at the borrowed country home in which he lives (it is in this town, Autun, that Dean meets Anne-Marie). The novel operates, in a sense, as a reverse The Great Gatsby: here our effaced narrator is not a young man (Nick) who witnesses the tragedy of heroism as embodied by the older, more storied man (Gatsby), but instead, is an older man, mourning time's inexorable erasure of youth through the creative act of witnessing (fantasizing/creating) the heroic younger man (Dean).

The novel is a novel of obsession, which at first seems to fixate on Dean and Anne-Marie's sex. But the novel's true fixation is the power and potentiality (one might say potency) of youth. Our narrator is impotent, and recreates the possibility of virility/vitality through his fantasy of Dean. It's quite sad and moving, actually. The whole book is cast in a sort of half-light, as though the events it recounts are waning even before they begin, or as if, as all things must, they contain the seeds of their own dissolution even in the moment of their brightest shining. Our narrator's fixation on Dean and Anne-Marie is a fixing of time, and a fixing of the timelessness of the sexual moment.

The novel's end, its shift from the promise of authenticity (see "The Real France") to its descriptive passages of the town gone arid, mark, at last, the impossibility of the narrator's project. Devastating.

Salter makes so many other strange, admirable moves in these pages that it would be difficult to enumerate them all (his rejection of constant, linear time; his use of description as tool of narrative authority; his complete rejection of the reader's desire to know more about our narrator). I would never read this novel again, but I come away from it feeling as though I need to reconsider--I am reconsidering--everything a novel can do.
Profile Image for Robin.
493 reviews2,728 followers
December 6, 2018
How rare is it to find exquisite, naked-as-a-jaybird, hot-as-Hades, life affirming sex scenes in a book of lit-fic? I'll tell you: very rare. It pretty much never happens.

It happened here. Although I'm starting to feel like it was all a dream. Like I'm going to wake up after I write this review, open the book, and find reams of pages about auto manufacturing, or people in lab coats saying "genitals" over and over while indicating to a medical diagram. (In other words, very NOT sexy things.)

I'm not going to lie, it's a strange little book. The strangest thing for me by far is the narration. This novel, which got off to a bit of a slow start, chronicles the steamy love affair between Dean and Anne-Marie. The story is told by some other guy. Think about that. Some other guy is describing the very prolific, intimate couplings of his friends, down to the minute, personal detail. He warns us at the beginning that he's made much of it up. But that just makes it even more weird (not to mention, pervy and pathetic) for him to document his imaginings of what these two people do behind closed doors. (That's for writers to do, not friends!)

Except, except, except. Except, you just have to open the book to any page, and you will find passages that cut you open, make you pant, tell the truth about sexual love and the fluctuating, unfair nature of relationships. Salter has a minimalist style that is poetic, fragmented, yet precise. After you spend time in his pages, you'll realise this is more than just an account of Dean and Anne-Marie going from car to hotel room to restaurant to hotel room, sex scene strung to sex scene strung to sex scene.

Though, it IS sex scene strung to sex scene.

And, at the same time, it's deeper than that. Salter's story explores love, voyeurism, youth and impermanence. It examines the kaleidoscope of cruelties and imbalances that exist in relationships. It shows the oh-so-relatable struggle to find the ingredients for a happy life. It's about the importance of telling stories, even if they're not your own. Plus the sex. All in under 200 pages? What a masterpiece!
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,466 reviews3,623 followers
June 8, 2022
The style is purely photographic and the story is utterly lucid. It’s a great tale of passion and fate.
This blue, indolent town. Its cats. Its pale sky. The empty sky of morning, drained and pure. Its deep, cloven streets. Its narrow courts, the faint, rotten odor within, orange peels lying in the corners. The uneven curbstones, their edges worn away. A town of doctors, all with large houses.

To live… To dream…
Some things, as I say, I saw, some discovered, and some dreamed, and I can no longer differentiate between them. But my dreams are as important as anything I acquired by stealth. More important, because they are the intuitive in its purest state. Without them, facts are no more than a kind of debris, unstrung, like beads. The dreams are as true and manifest as the iron fences of France flashing black in the rain. More true, perhaps. They are the skeleton of all reality.

I dream, therefore I am…
Profile Image for Julie G.
896 reviews2,930 followers
November 6, 2018
Well, hell.

Give me a minute here, people. Give me a minute while I light my cigarette with my shaky hands, take a load off my mind, too.


For a lady who is determined to find literary smut and is so often disappointed, I've got to tell you . . . I'm spent.

I'm exhausted.

I'm blowing smoke right. . . in. . . your. . . face.

This James Salter. . . he took me places, took me places all right.

He not only proved me wrong about the existence of literary smut. . . he went even further. . . went and made sexual intercourse a goddamned protagonist. Made it the entire plot of this novel. Sex. Sex of all kinds. (And I mean all kinds; consider yourself warned). And, somehow, it works.

For fuck's sake. . . it works.

My sisters. . . my brothers. . . you will not find proper character development here.

You will not find a cohesive plot, either.

But, you will find a weird little narrator (not that different from Gatsby's Nick Carraway).

And you will find some smooth transitions, too. So smooth!

And so many. . . SO MANY memorable passages. About everything. My entire copy is filled with post-it notes and scribbles. I could fill this entire review with my favorite lines.

I can not deny Salter's observations or writing. I loved them both. I could feel both Hemingway and Fitzgerald here, Edna O'Brien, too.

I can not even IMAGINE the reception that this novel must have received back in 1967, two years before the naughty Portnoy's Complaint showed up to rock the world.

Whoa. Mr. Salter. . . my cigarette's in the ashtray. Wanna meet for drinks?

She begins to make him hard again. In a few minutes he rolls her over and puts it in as if the intermission were ended. This time she is wild. The great bed begins creaking. Her breath becomes short. Dean has to brace his hands on the wall. He hooks his knees outside her legs and drives himself deeper.
“Oh,” she breathes, “that's the best.”
When he comes, it downs them both. They crumble like sand. He returns from the bathroom and picks up the covers from the floor. She has not moved. She lies just where she has fallen.
Profile Image for Orsodimondo.
2,194 reviews1,815 followers
July 30, 2023

In copertina

Phillip Dean – dal narratore chiamato quasi sempre per cognome, da lei invece soprattutto con il nome di battesimo - e Anne-Marie fanno l’amore, scopano, fanno sesso: per scoprire il mondo, per imparare a vivere, per conoscere la fonte dei numeri, il percorso delle stelle, perché è bello, divertente, è un piacere. Perché la pelle e il corpo parlano tutte le lingue.
Un viaggio che inizia prima ancora che lui le entri dentro, già da quando cominciano a sfiorarsi, a toccarsi. La penetrazione è un’accelerazione del percorso conoscitivo, un’anticipazione dell’estasi, ma già di per sé puro incanto.
L’attrazione tra loro è forte e consistente, ripetuta, qualcuno vorrebbe definirla ossessiva. Si amano? Dal mio punto di vista si può parlar d’amore. Da diversa prospettiva probabilmente la risposta è negativa. Ma il sesso portato al loro livello, finché dura, è oltre, trascende, è un’altra dimensione. È forse la prima occasione di verificare l’esistenza del multiverso.

Albert Rasyulis, il fotografo della copertina.

James Salter al suo secondo romanzo (1967, ma ambientato all’inizio del decennio, quando la Francia molto più che refrattaria si stava spogliando delle sue colonie d’Africa) raggiunge vette ineguagliabili di erotismo. E scrive un romanzo quasi sperimentale, pressoché senza storia, fatto essenzialmente d’atmosfera, brume e nuvole che scorrono rapide. Lo costruisce a piccoli magistrali tocchi, frasi più brevi di quelle cui mi ha abituato, con sensibilità che mi verrebbe da definire impressionista.
E in queste pagine la Francia non è mai stata così bella, così attraente, così francese, magnifico cuore culturale dell’Europa.
Le storie di Salter non hanno mai colpi di scena, eventi capitali. Qui il plot è addirittura ridotto all’osso ed è tutto fatto più che mai di momenti, di occasioni: una cena a due in un ristorante, un tè a quattro in un salotto, un abito provato in camerino, la macchina che sfreccia su strade dentro gallerie di platani, due corpi nudi sopra le lenzuola…

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Le gambe di Martine, 1967.

Il narratore è il terzo personaggio: diventa amico di Dean, lo ospita, lo introduce a quella terra straniera, conosce anche Anne-Marie e la trova molto attraente (qual è l’origine della sensualità di questa ragazza che non arriva ai vent’anni, così giovane che non può neppure giocare al casino: la sua età, i seni invitanti, la facilità al silenzio, la disponibilità…?). Un terzo personaggio che partecipa, che racconta.
E descrive anche quando è assente. Narratore onniscente? No, narratore dotato di illuminazioni. Salter e la sua voce narrante in prima persona lo esplicitano più volte, forse le cose non sono andate esattamente come sono scritte, ma sicuramente sarebbero potute andare in quel modo, e comunque è quello il nocciolo realistico della vicenda, anche se immaginato e non partecipato. Lui, il narratore, riesce a vedere la coppia di giovani amanti anche se non è presente ai loro accoppiamenti.
D’altronde, la memoria plasma, ricostruisce, modifica, tutto in funzione del futuro: e quindi che torto può fare al racconto l’uso frequente dell’immaginazione? È utile a collegare i dettagli, a completare il disegno: di sicuro non si allontana dalla realtà in modo rilevante.

Henri Cartier-Bresson

Salter riesce a descrivere un susseguirsi di atti sessuali, ripetute scene d’amore, senza mai scivolare nel pornografico – che prima che volgare, è ridicolo e maccheronico – entrando nel dettaglio e nel particolare, persino di una sodomia (qui sotto il brano in questione), mai ammiccante, mai voyeuristico, mai insistito, mai disturbante, mai lezioso, mai falso, brutale eppur romantico, mantenendosi autentico e sempre delicato, coinvolgente ed emozionante.
E ogni volta riesce a farla sembrare la prima, una nuova esperienza, un’epifania: per il narratore, per la coppia di amanti, per il lettore.
Sono solo duecento pagine che sembrano duemila, perché danno l’apparenza di contenere l’intera esperienza emotiva e sentimentale dell’esistenza, e sembrano due per come trascorrono suadenti. Magistrale. Prezioso.

René Groebli.

Gli tremano le braccia. All’improvviso sente la sua carne cedere e poi, con delizia, sente il muscolo chiudersi intorno a lui. Cerca di non urtare contro niente, di entrare diritto. Lei ha il respiro affannoso e, mentre si ritrae dalla prima spinta, la sente sobbalzare di piacere. Sono i movimenti brevi che le piacciono. Gli si butta contro, si lascia sfuggire dei gemiti. Dean viene – è come un’emorragia – e, dopo, lei lo stringe forte dentro di sé. Dean riesce a sentire le lievi contrazioni del suo ano. Resta perfettamente immobile finché questi spasimi finali, questi abbracci appaganti che gli estraggono fino all’ultima goccia di seme, non cessano. Poi si ritrae. C’è un abbraccio stretto, fuggevole della testa, e poi anche questo finisce. Si sono separati. “Ti è piaciuto?” le chiede. “Beaucoup”.

”Three – Noi tre soltanto” film diretto da James Salter nel 1969. Al centro una fulminante Charlotte Rampling poco più che ventenne.
Profile Image for Guille.
784 reviews1,745 followers
March 1, 2023

Si nos atenemos a la literalidad de lo leído, la historia es trivial: un joven rico americano, antes de regresar al sitio del que proviene y empezar su vida adulta, juega y se distrae en Francia con una linda muchacha con la que vivirá una gran historia de deseo y pasión que…

Pero esto no es todo, claro está, y puede que apenas sea nada al lado del lenguaje, la forma, el gran poder evocador de la prosa de este hombre que consigue eso que no está al alcance de muchos, que el libro sea uno distinto para cada lector, que el libro sea lo suficientemente sugerente como para que se amolde a eso que nos conmueve a cada uno. Y en eso que a mí me conmueve, este párrafo tiene especial relevancia:
"NADA DE ESTO ES CIERTO... Me limito a anotar detalles que absorbí, fragmentos capaces de desgarrarme el cuerpo. Es la historia de cosas que nunca existieron, aunque el menor asomo de duda al respecto, la mínima posibilidad, lo sume todo en tinieblas. Solo quiero que quien lea esto esté tan resignado como yo."
Nada es real, pero todo es verdad, la verdad del narrador, esa que él construye quizás únicamente a través de unos pocos detalles sobre personas en verdad reales. Después o seguidamente o al lado está la verdad que nosotros construimos en torno a este relato confuso, envuelto en una niebla que nos obliga a completarlo con fragmentos propios, esos que fueron capaces de desgarrarnos a nosotros mismos.

La sensación que todo el relato me transmitía era como la de estar atravesando el gran salón en el que acaba de celebrarse una gran fiesta, ya al final de la noche con todas las luces encendidas, en un paseo solitario en el que ando mirando a las parejas antiguas o recién estrenadas que se besuquean por los rincones idealizadas por mí en un “y comieron perdices” eterno. Una noche en la que había puesto mis mayores esperanzas y que culmino ahora dando puntapiés a los confetis que alfombran el suelo indignado por el destino que me hurta lo que me merezco tanto o más que todos esos comeperdices.

Así percibí al narrador durante toda la novela, dando puntapiés al confeti y compadeciéndose de él mismo al volver una y otra vez a encarnar en unos desconocidos (o no) una historia que parece haber marcado su vida.
“... oigo el sonido de los tacones de Annie, lentos, finos, cuando finalmente se encamina hacia la puerta, se detiene... Él llega después de pagar la cuenta y salen juntos a la calle. Solo en mi mesa (siempre imagino esta escena), observo cómo se vuelven, cruzan la sala abovedada y por fin se marchan. Amantes desconocidos. Se pierden en la ciudad. No volveré a verlos nunca. Estoy aquí sentado. Tardarán por lo menos diez minutos en servirme el postre. El camarero tendrá que venir, retirar el plato principal, tomar nota de mi pedido. “
Y qué bien supo transmitirme todo esto Salter... sobre todo si tenemos en cuenta que yo nunca he sentido algo ni parecido: soy de los que andaba besuqueándome por los rincones.
Profile Image for Katie.
277 reviews357 followers
October 3, 2018
A sport and a pastime is a pretty good definition of how a certain kind of man treats women in relationships. This is a brilliant, probing and very subtle depiction of the relationship between a rich American boy and a poor French girl without prospects. The subtlety with which Salter writes means you're never quite sure if Dean loves Ann-Marie or is abusing her. No matter how well he treats her we never quite trust his commitment, and this makes Ann-Marie a tremendously sympathetic character. I've read that James Salter has been accused of being a misogynist but if he is then here he's examining very critically and brilliantly its mechanisms, the ways a man can trick a woman into surrendering up her heart while remaining essentially detached.
The depiction of France from the point of view of a visitor is stunning, one of the best evocations of place I've ever read. The descriptive writing is a constant marvel. And it's such a wise book. It's narrated by Dean's friend, and the relationship between the narrator is Dean is reminiscent of the dynamic between Nick and Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. It's also a very sexy novel. The sex is surprisingly graphic at times but always serves a higher, psychological purpose. We learn heaps about both Dean and Ann Marie from their sexual appetites and compromises. Not once did the sex in this book make me cringe which is unusual for me. In many ways it's a novel about sexual chemistry when overwhelming and the chasms in expectation between the male and the female in such a relationship.
I've now read most of Salter's books and this is my favourite. If you're interested in reading him this is the one I'd most recommend. A stunning achievement.
Profile Image for Candi.
622 reviews4,715 followers
January 7, 2020
4.5 stars

"Certain things I remember exactly as they were. They are merely discolored a bit by time, like coins in the pocket of a forgotten suit. Most of the details, though, have long since been transformed or rearranged to bring others of them forward. Some, in fact, are obviously counterfeit; they are no less important. One alters the past to form the future. But there is a real significance to the pattern which finally appears, which resists all further change."

A Sport and a Pastime is the perfect example of one of the most unreliably narrated, beautifully written novels I can bring to mind. It is also one of the sexiest, depending on your definition of sexy. Though it’s written with one erotic romp after another (once you get past the point when you say to yourself, ‘where are the promised titillating scenes?!’), what stays with me most is the dreamlike, haunting prose. A seemingly omniscient, first-person narrator relates to us a love affair between a Yale dropout, Phillip Dean, and a French provincial girl, Anne-Marie, in Autun. But the reader is never sure what is truth, what is embellishment, and what is wild imagination. Could he really share with us the most intimate details of their sexual escapades? Or is he projecting his own fantasies on the couple, as he is unable to fulfill his own desire for the woman he lusts after?

"I cannot control these dreams in which she seems to lie in my future like a whole season of extravagant meals if only I knew how to arrange it… When I am near her I can almost experience the feel of her flesh, taste it, like a starving man, like a sailor smelling vegetation far out of sight of shore."

The writing is truly exquisite. Dean and Anne-Marie flit from place to place, when they are not holed up in her little room getting it on. I’ve never been to France, but Salter’s words are so evocative that I felt an echo of a distant memory of having been there.

"Beloved town. I see it in all weathers, the sunlight falling into its alleys like fragments of china, the silent evenings, the viaduct blue with rain. And coming back– this is much later–there are long, clear stretches with fields on either side, and we fly down an aisle of trees, the trunks all white with lime. Roads of France. Restaurants and cemeteries. Black trees and hanging rain."

What I take away from this novel if I really try to dig deep into what Salter was trying to do here… maybe it has something to do with memory and creating stories around those pieces we recall. The narrator is a photographer, so perhaps he is taking snapshots and then filling in the blanks with his own fiction. Much like we, as observers of human nature, create versions of the lives we imagine others to live. Much is left up to the reader in the end. The more I think about it, the more I realize it’s really quite clever. There is a lot to ponder regarding relationships as well - not just the steamy parts behind closed doors (although there’s that too). I have to admit that this book decently pulled me out of a slump from some very somber reading. However, I found one scene in the novel I just finished today to be much more sensuous and affecting than any of the more graphic encounters we are privy to in this one. I’ll be running out for another dose of Salter again though. His writing is breathtaking. I’m giving this 4.5 stars and rounding up… I’ll save the extra half star for Light Years, just in case it’s even more brilliant ;)

"Somehow his life seems more truthful than mine, stronger, even able to draw mine to it like the pull of a dark star."
Profile Image for Cecily.
1,137 reviews4,178 followers
January 21, 2018
Remember that the life of this world is but a sport and a pastime, and the life of the Hereafter is far better for those who seek to ward off their ruin.
Quran 6 : 32 (Al-An'am)

A phrase from the Islamic holy book is the title of this very secular story. That is one of several unsettling mysteries. Both explore the importance of truth in fragmentary ways, and both expect the reader to trust an omniscience: always watching, noting... judging. But I think they probably reach opposite conclusions.

Picture taken at Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, Rome, October 2012

I read this a few weeks after being blindsided by the multisensory, impressionistic style of Salter’s Light Years (see my review HERE). The language here is similar, especially recurring reference to fragments, mirrors, light, and water, and occasional switches of tense, but the storytelling is different, darker, and explicitly untrustworthy.

It's as if a huge deck of images is being shuffled.


None of this is true… I am only putting down details which entered me, fragments that were able to part my flesh.

This is the story of Phillip Dean who has just dropped out of Yale, visits the south of France, and forms a relationship with a local girl, Anne-Marie. It’s set over a few months, presumably in the mid/late 1960s, when it was written. The unnamed narrator is a photographer friend of Philip’s, at least a decade older, who takes a prurient interest in recording intimate details of their increasingly sexual relationship. Things that in many cases, he couldn’t possibly know.

I see myself as an agent provocateur or a double agent, first on one side - that of truth - and then on the other... Some things... I saw, some I discovered, and some dreamed, and I can no longer differentiate. But my dreams are as important as anything I acquired by stealth. More important because they are the intuitive in its purest state... They are the skeleton of all reality.

Note “stealth”, along with his sense of wisdom, power, and righteousness.

I thought of Iris Murdoch’s Svengali figures, but this man is no puppeteer - though he recognises the possibility of the role, when he sees a circus acrobat in a café: “One has the feeling that someone else exists, an impresario, an unseen man whom they all obey”.

However, he is more of a Humbert Humbert: waiting, hoping. (See my review of Lolita HERE.)


Kintsugi is the Japanese art of repairing fragments of broken pottery with gold.

Certain things I remember exactly as they were. They are merely discolored a bit by time… Most of the details, though, have long since been transformed or rearranged… Some, in fact, are obviously counterfeit; they are no less important. One alters the past to form the future... The myriad past, it enters us and disappears. Except that within it, somewhere, like diamonds, exist the fragments that refuse to be consumed. Sifting through… one discovers the true design.

The reader’s job is to discover the true story from the muddled pieces - something the narrator attempts: “I have begun to discern patterns… the many fragments... as I touch them, turn them around, I find myself subject to sudden, illuminated moments.”

But the more I read, the more I realised the real story was not the one told about Phillip Dean and Anne-Marie. The real story is that of the narrator: how and why he’s really in France, how he knows Phillip, and especially . This is what makes this book so much cleverer than Light Years, though I like it slightly less.

The narrator claims not to like imagining Anne-Marie and Phillip having sex, even as he describes it, claiming “it’s impossible to control these dreams”, which are increasingly taking over his life. He (thinks he) has some influence over Phillip, but “I was afraid he might find me out” if he asks too many intimate questions.

Or maybe none of it’s true. “I am not telling the truth about Dean, I am inventing him. I am creating him out of my own inadequacies.”

The Sex

The sex scenes are not shy about details, but they’re remarkably unsexy, For example: “As his prick goes into her, he discovers the world. He knows the source of numbers, the path of the stars.” Phillip had been studying maths, but even so, “the pure calculus of love” felt calculated more for humour than lustful response in the reader.

I found the repressed longing of one character ( ) more erotic than the slightly kinky physical acts of others.

Quotes - Place

There is a strong sense of location, conjured by brief snapshots of sights, sounds, and smells (the narrator is a photographer), often at the start of chapters.

• “Like a great, beached ship: the cathedral… That marvellous spire which points at the same time to the earth’s center and also to the outer void.”
• “A geography of favoured streets is forming itself for me while I sleep.”
• “The cemetery that glitters like jewelry in the lost, slanting light.”
• “Beloved town, I see it in all weathers, the sunlight falling into its alleys like fragments of china.”
• “There are sheep, a large flock, and two black dogs, lean and endlessly circling… They seem to be carving the flock. They curve in behind and mould it… The sheep move in a current, like a stream - the edges cling, the center continually flows. The pattern is always changing.”
• “A vast, ocher city materializes in a sequence of fragments like hints of a great image which has been shattered. We are confronted with the brilliant parts. Corners of streets. Trollies. Splendid fronts of buildings too far distant to really see.” (A slide-show.)
• “There is the scent of killing boredom in the air.”

Quotes - Colour

When a colour is mentioned, it’s invariably blue. And not just obvious things, like sky, clothes, or Philip’s car:
• “In the blue of autumn… provincial autumn that touches the bone… the years turn as dry as leaves.”
• “This blue, indolent town. Its cats. Its pale sky. The empty sky of morning, drained and pure.”
• “The chaste gold of cufflinks.”
• “It’s the emptiness which pleases me, the blue dimensions of this life… Above us, provincial sky, a little cloudy.”
• “Mornings with black wind rushing like water.”
• “I wander this city like a somnambulist. The blue cigarette smoke is rising, the odor of reminiscence.”

Quotes - Miscellaneous

• “A glory… like a shimmering of sunlight… famous photographs… of Paris… out before dawn every morning, slowly stealing a city from those who inhabit it.”
• “Beautiful face… A mouth like spoilt fruit.”
• “Long, unhurried hours of evening… Plates being silently removed, the taste of foods lingering. The immortal procession of a French meal.”
• “Weeks that seem now never to have been, that later events washed out of existence.”
• “They are traveling cheaply, with that touch of indolence and occasional luxury that comes only from having real resources.”
• “The night is hung with the thinnest of rains.”
• “His eyes are drifting slowly between substance and reflection.”
• “I try to watch her, to isolate elements of that stunning sexuality, but it’s like memorizing the reflections of a diamond.”

One must have heroes, which is to say, one must create them.
Who will I create? And you…?
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,529 reviews979 followers
March 22, 2014
Some books I hear about through the loudspeakers of popular opinion (Harry Potter, Twilight, The Book Thief). Others are classics everybody has heard about (A Farewell to Arms, Les Miserables). Genre books I discover in dedicated forums and recently my wishlist is growing exponentially through Goodreads recommendations. But I always hold a special place on my shelves for the books I discover accidentally, like impulse buys in second hand bookstores that turn out to be personal favorites. A Sport and a Pastime came to me through the intercession of John Irving, who makes this slim 1967 volume an important part of the plot of his sprawling A Son of the Circus novel. In there, the James Salter intensely erotical account of the romance between Dean and Anne-Marie, a Yale dropout and a French waitress, serves to rekindle the passion of a tired middle aged couple.

Given the explicit sexual content, the novel might not be for anyone, but I believe Salter treated the subject of physical love with an artist brush, stylishly and emotionally rather than mechanically. ( No sound from the countryside. Birds. The hum of a spring. On the wide bed they are soon at work, skillfully, silent as thieves. They are deep in a sumptuous dream in which they have discovered one another. ) The best references I could make to give you an idea of the particular vibe of the novel comes from cinema by way of the 'la nouvelle vague' French school (Alain Resnais, and Jean-Luc Godard) and in particular Bernardo Bertolucci who also set out to shake the foundations of a stuck up, repressed society. 'The Last Tango in Paris' and 'The Dreamers' especially share with James Salter not only the French setting and the expatriate protagonist, but also the dreamy atmosphere, the enchanted circle that isolates the lovers from the concerns of the regular world.

Some things, as I say, I saw, some discovered, and some dreamed, and I can no longer differentiate between them. But my dreams are as important as anything I acquired by stealth. More important, because they are the intuitive in its purest state. Without them, facts are no more than a kind of debris, unstrung, like beads. The dreams are as true and manifest as the iron fences of France flashing back in the rain. More true perhaps. They are the skeleton of all reality.

The unnamed narrator of the story forms the third point of the triangle with the lovers, Dean and Anne-Marie. He is the writer who analyzes the situation, invents it and orders the sequence of events by whim or design. But he is also the voyeur who repeatedly confesses his own mysterious incapacity for physical love, an emotional handicap that he remedies by imagining the bed sports between the two young people. The title of the book could be simplistically interpreted to refer to the act of love, but the inside dedication with the quote from the Koran gives a more accurate and deeper meaning.

None of this is true. I've said Autun, but it could easily have been Auxerre. I'm only putting down details which entered me, fragments that were able to part my flesh. [...] There's enough passion in the world already. Everything trembles with it. Not that I believe it shouldn't exist, no, no, but this is only a thin, reflecting sliver which somehow keeps catching the light.

Autun is a name to conjure with in the case of James Salter. I would have loved the book to pieces even in the absence of the tempestuous love story, simply for the way the author paints in vibrant colours the beauty of the French countryside, the charms of small towns pver the changing seasons, the majesty of the Loire valley castles or the liberating expanses of the seaside resorts. Salter is not the first, nor the last American artist to fall in love with France and its culture, but he is one of the most convincing and authentic troubadours of the out of the way places, still authentic and unspoiled yet by the tourism industry, at least in the 1960's.

Autun, still as a churchyard. Tile roofs, dark with moss. The amphitheatre. The great, central square: the Champ de Mars. Now, in blue of autumn that touches the bone. The summer has ended. The garden withers. The mornings become chill. I am thirty, I am thirty-four - the years turn dry as leaves.

The transitions between the narrator and the lovers perspectives are intentionally blurred, emotions are more important than facts, dreams are confused with memories and places (villages, towns, an endless series of anonimous hotel rooms ) become interchangeable, the only constant being the passion between Dean and Anne-Marie.

So let's look more closely at them. When I think of Dean, I picture a young Robert Redford, a sun god, and of the phrase used to describe him in The Way We Were : 'In a way, he was like the country he was born in. Everything came too easy to him.' Dean is careless of his gifts (youth, beauty, intelligence, a privileged social position) and abandons his studies at Yale, drifting to France without money and without any plans for the future. He comes to Autun on a visit to the narrator, and here he meets a young waitress, unsophisticated, unschooled and from a very modest family. Anne-Marie maintains her 'je ne sais quoi', her feminine impenetrable mystery that is actually a more profound and dependBle capacity for love. Dean casually seduces her, she placidly accepts his attentions (none of them is a virgin) and they start to meet every weekend in different towns, in cheap hotel rooms.

The biggest part of the novel develops as a double roadtrip: the exploration of the French countryside and the exploration of each other's body, experimenting and daring further and further afield with each new weekend. As a symbol of the transient character of the romance there is the luxury convertible driven by Dean, a Delahaye coupe that is revealed in the novel's endnotes to be the same car the author glimpsed in a Paris dealership window in his own youth, and the car he actually bought later in life:

And I think the very symbol of his existence which continually appears and reappears to me, emerging from behind trees in the dusk, its lights floating out, its dark shape fleeing along the road, that great, spectral car which haunts the villages, its tires worn, the chrome on its wheels beginning to speckle with rust. Journeys and intimations of journeys - I see now that he has always kept himself close to the life that flows, is transient, born away. And I see his whole appearance differently. He is joined to the brevity of things. He has apprehended at least one great law.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this book that I expect many readers will judge trashy and pretentious, and my final rating makes no claims of objectivity. My reactions and my reasons to add it among favorites have a lot to do with personal experiences, both in falling in love with Paris and the French countryside over frequent holidays in the region and in more intimate / illicit journeys of discovery in similar hotel rooms and far away places. The flames of passion are burning with a quieter flame now, but the memories came back as if it all happened yesterday. The final lines of the novel hit closer to home than I expected: I am both Dean and the voyeuristic narrator of my own youth.

I am left alone at my table - I always imagine this - watching as they turn and pass through the domed room, among the lighted cases, and at last are gone. Unknown lovers. They disappear into the town.
Profile Image for Dolors.
540 reviews2,280 followers
June 20, 2019
Americans in France. A summer that never ends, a delightful treat for all the senses, a place where eroticism and youth blend naturally with the slow rhythm of a life enjoyed to the core. Paradise redoubled. Or is it?

The nameless narrator of this atemporal story arrives at Autun, a bucolic town in the Bourgogne region, far from the influence of hectic Paris. The landscape he observes through the window of the train car is described in mechanical cadence, similar to the background noise of wheels on the railroad, lulling the reader, preparing him for the multi-sensorial pleasures he is going to embark upon.
As if possessed by the sheer sensuality of the French countryside, our mysterious narrator shifts his attention towards Dean and Anne-Marie, the son of a rich American and a local waitress, who start an ardent love affair that consumes their days and nights.
A succession of heated and very explicit, but never vulgar, sex scenes in quaint hotels and nocturnal outings to cafes and dance clubs takes the main focus of the story, and our narrator becomes a mere voyeur chronicling the couple’s active sex life.

Like Banville, Salter is a stylist. And a poet at heart. He is also a very skilled master puppeteer, as he plays with the reader’s attention to conceal the real plotline of the story. Dean and Anne-Marie seem to be the sole protagonists, their youth everlasting, their vigor incandescent, their idyll a marriage of soul and body; and yet I wonder, after having turned the last page, whether I lost focus of what was really being told by this invisible storyteller, the voice-over in the untold narrative. Because what can we say about the narrator? Is he accurate in his account? Can the reader believe the true nature of his relationship with Dean? With Anne-Marie?
Salter knows the reader can’t. But he knows the reader’s hidden desires, his expectations, his hunger for youth and beauty, his need to evade the burdens of quotidianity. He knows how to read the human’s soul and its longings. And its fears and inconsistencies. Because he knows we can live through other people’s lives by closely observing them, clinging onto the image we create of them, filling in the gaps with invented memories, dreams that we’d want for us that won’t ever be ours. And so who is the real protagonist here? Isn’t the narrator the one to tell this story? Would it be the same story if Dean or Anne-Marie told it?

Salter bides his time and hits home in the last chapter of this erotic reverie. Sensuality becomes the only anchor in the erratic existence that youth claims on us. His prose reaches high levels of lyricism when reality is made tangible by sudden loss, and all that is left is the narrator of the story…oh yes, and Salter’s prose. His majestic use of the word might be, after all, the one and indisputable protagonist of his novels.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,220 followers
October 5, 2021
My third James Salter novel. Probably my least favourite. On the one hand it's a love song to provincial France. On the other it's a romp of sexual liberation. The narrator tells us the story of the relationship between a rich American dropout and a French shop girl. He provides lots of details about their sex life that he can have no knowledge of. Maybe the entire story is some kind of erotic fantasy on his part? In the introduction we're told Salter is asking questions about the nature of narration itself. A favourable comparison with The Great Gatsby is also made. But Salter's unreliable narrator was of little interest to me. He was virtually insignificant. He rarely entered the story and added little if anything to it. Both males in this novel were adolescently narcissistic and deeply unlikeable. The female was shadowy. Mostly it concerns itself with sexual union except we rarely feel there is any union between the male and the female. For me Salter missed a trick here by rarely dwelling on the fact that the two lovers don't speak the same language. Because this isn't only literally true it's also true in terms of their ambition for the relationship. Anne-Marie's head is mired with pipedreams of marriage: she wants to escape into marriage; Dean, on the other hand, wants to escape everything marriage represents. There's always the sense she is probably little more than a postcard in his foreign adventure. It's essentially a rather bleak book which depicts sex as a kind of extortion practiced by the male over the female (it does have good feminist credentials). But it's a novel that covers little ground, caught as it is in an ever repeating loop - there's the sex, there's the excursion, there's more sex and another excursion and so it goes on. There are excellent sentences scattered throughout but it didn't cut it as a novel for me.
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,678 reviews5,253 followers
April 24, 2015
He hasn't the strength to dream, or rather, his dreams take place while he is awake and they are marvelous for at least one quality: he has the power to prolong them.
he has a dream of France. wintry and grey, rain and empty streets. he has a dream of a younger version of himself, handsome and aloof, virile. a tabula rasa of sorts. he can project himself onto that blank slate, into a story that he has made, and he does; but it is not his, not really. it is his dream version of that story, that young man, that time in France. he has a dream of a romance, fated to end as soon as it has begun. he dreams himself into that romance. and he makes that romance both tragic and commonplace.

it is like a lucid dream, one he can shape and maybe even control. it is not wispy and full of ambiguity; it is all sharp details and precisely painted pictures, characters finely etched, many small and intimate things. an odd dream, one full of declarative sentences, the banality and the beauty of things described just so. an oddly dreamlike book, it left this reader cold but thoughtful, turned off and turned on, fascinated and repelled. a meditation on memory: on how we reconstruct the past.

he is not of France but he could be mistaken for such. he wishes to be mistaken for such. his character "Dean", longing to be seen as a Frenchman, and the prose itself, an American relative of Duras. that sensual lack of sensuality, that focus on the details rather than the emotions. très Duras. Henry Miller's prick; Marguerite Duras' icy detachment.

he has a dream of a certain kind of death. a mors ex machina.

his dream is a dream of sex as well. graphic sex, explicit details. a male perspective, a specifically male eye. this part into that part, openings and tightenings and fluid spent. erotica or pornography? a pornographic focus on the mechanics; an erotic focus on the feelings. but only his feelings. it's his dream after all.
The orchestras of the world beat softly. The muscle in her behind is tight.
Profile Image for Anne .
455 reviews376 followers
January 4, 2021
When I was in my late 20s I read an article about James Salter. The writer of this article claimed that Salter was a "writer's writer" which also explained why he was not widely read. Of course, I had to immediately seek out and read 2 of his book, including this one to see what a writer's writer wrote. Well, I think Salter is a special writer and I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I am not a writer.

I have also heard that sex scenes are very difficult to write. Well, Salter definitely knows how to write them. I refer you to my friend (and writer) Julie's review. I cannot write a better (or funnier) review than hers: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show....
223 reviews193 followers
November 8, 2011
Lets stop beating about the bush here. To be crystal clear: Men CANNOT write about sex. (They probably don’t even understand it). When they do write about sex, it is only other men who might find it remotely plausible, let alone satisfying. Exciting doesn’t even come into it. This is officially the last book I am reading on the subject written by a man.

How bad can it be? Here is a little snippet (from 200 pages worth of similar delectable delights). Our hero, one Phillip Dean, is gallivanting round the south of France with an eighteen year old French girl, who, as it so happens, has never had any traffic up the old chocolate highway before. Phillip to the rescue then, without further ado (literally):

‘He tries not to press against anything, to go straight in. She is breathing quickly and as he withdraws on the first stroke he can feel her jerking with pleasure. She thrusts herself against him. Dean comes –its like a haemorrhage-and afterwards she clasps him tightly. [...]’Did you like it’, he asks. ‘Beaucoup’.’

Well, what can I say? I’m speechless. No, I’m not actually. When he feels her jerking on the first stroke, obviously that must be pleasure, according to him. What I’d like to do is stick a hot poker up his ass for the first time ever, straight in, just like that, and ask him exactly what he feels when he gives off a little involuntary jerk. He seems to come, if I’m reading it correctly, on exactly the second stroke (doesn’t even abide by the three strikes before you’re out rule), which is probably why she was so profusely thankful. Whilst, in all probability, the haemorrhage was hers and not his.

Now, there are those who are going to say this book isn’t just about sex. Fine, I’ll disregard about 120 pages (out of 200) and go with that for a while. What else do we have here? A young American aimlessly traversing old Europe in hedonistic Abandon? Patricia Highsmith does it so much better in ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’. Even Henry Miller’s Tropic is better. A young American looking for answers to existential angst in France? Harvey Swados does it so much better in ‘Nights in the Gardens of Brooklyn.’ A young American weary of the mortal coil seeking to put salve on his depression by going abroad? Paul Bowles does it so much better in ‘The Sheltering Sky’. In fact, anybody out there writing about a young American questing in parts beyond the seas has probably done it better. If you wrote about it, you would do it better.

Profile Image for Matt.
936 reviews28.6k followers
April 26, 2016
When I came across Esquire’s “80 Books Every Man Should Read,” there was no way in hell I wasn’t going to read it. First, I – like most people on the internet – am partial to listicles. Articles are nice, but lists appeal to the part of my brain eroded by…what was I talking about? Second, I love books. That is, after all, why I am here, on this website. And third – I am a man. Beards! Flannel! Emotional reticence! The combination felt like it’d been written specifically for me.

That’s how I came across James Salter’s A Sport and a Pastime. It was the cover that initially caught my eye: a woman’s stockinged legs draped in a come-hither-ish manner over the arm of a couch. My attention had been fixed.

Esquire’s account of the novel’s contents was pretty minimal, so I followed the ubiquitous Amazon link, where the words “intensely carnal” were featured prominently in the product description. This was a book – like Ulysses, Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and Tropic of Cancer – that had at one time been banned as obscene.

Being an unreconstructed pervert a naturally curious person, A Sport and a Pastime sounded too good to pass up. When I pulled it out of its mail-order box – proudly shipped by Amazon, though decades earlier it’d probably been mailed in defiance of Comstock in a plain brown box – I comforted myself with the knowledge that this was a minor classic (albeit one I’d never heard of).

The story contained in this slim (185 pages) volume is set in provincial France sometime in the 1960s. It centers on a Yale dropout named Philip Dean, who is traveling around the countryside in a fancy, borrowed car, and his French girlfriend Anne-Marie, a young woman with bad breath and few sexual boundaries.

The most notable thing about A Sport and a Pastime is how Salter chooses to tell his tale. The novel is delivered in the first-person by an unnamed storyteller who defines the term “unreliable narrator.” (He is, after all, never present for the intimate moments of Philip and Anne-Marie’s relationship). Early on, he states:

None of this is true…I’m sure you’ll come to realize that. I am only putting down details which entered me, fragments that were able to part my flesh. It’s a story of things that never existed although even the faintest doubt of that, the smallest possibility, plunges everything into darkness.

For whatever reason, Philip and Anne-Marie’s affair has gripped the narrator in a feverish passion. That is the chief problem I had with this work. A great big deal is made about this romance, but there was never a point where I felt it deserved this much attention – or rather, this level of obsession. Neither Philip nor Anne-Marie are ever clearly drawn as characters, though Philip is a bit more rounded than his lover. I never bought into their love or lust. As a couple, they don’t create any sparks: they exchange no profound dialogue, or witty banter, or even demonstrate a single instance of why they like each other.

The narrator, though – or should I call him the Narrator – is deeply, creepily enamored of their coupling, which he rapturously recounts in oft-overwrought prose:

Her mouth feels warm. I try to find darkness, a void, but they are too luminous, the white sky behind them, their bodies open and fresh. They are too innocent. They’re like my own children, and they illustrate an affection which has little reason to, which in fact does not exist except that she – at the very bottom it is her only real distinction – she knows how to make things come true. Her mouth moves in long, sweet reaches. Dean can feel himself beginning to tumble, to come apart, and I am like a saxophone player in a marching band, in love with a movie queen…

I didn't have any expectations coming into this reading experience. As I mentioned above, I never knew A Sport and a Pastime existed until brought to my attention by a click-bait listicle in Esquire. Thus, I can’t really label my reaction as one of disappointment. That’s too strong a word. In fact, the thing that impressed me most about A Sport and a Pastime is how little it evoked in me. The sex scenes are not graphic enough to arouse any prurient interest, and they seem tame in comparison with lurid passages that can be found in any number of books penned by contemporary writers. The characters are not memorable. The plot is mostly a languid series of small, quiet scenes, with the story puttering out rather than driving towards a climax (I’m sure I could’ve found an appropriate innuendo there, if I had more energy to try).

A Sport and a Pastime is not without its small pleasures. It has the feel, evoked by the setting and the elegant bluntness of the prose, of something written by Fitzgerald or Hemingway. It captures a forgotten time, a post-WWII France peopled by expatriates and soldiers and timeless farmers.

Beloved town. I see it in all weathers, the sunlight falling into its alleys like fragments of china, the silent evenings, the viaduct blue with rain. And coming back – this is much later – there are long, clear stretches with fields on either side, and we fly down an aisle of trees, the trunks all white with lime. Roads of France. Restaurants and cemeteries. Black trees and hanging rain. The needle is on one-forty. The axles are cracking like wood.

Since this showed up on a list devoted to books for men, and since I am all man, I wondered briefly at my tepid response. I am fully cognizant that this might be a function of age. Had I read this as a younger man, when all of the little things in life seemed fraught and life-or-death, when the briefest of relationships could turn me into all manner of insane, I might have been more receptive to Salter’s narrator. I’m past that stage now, for better or for worse, and I’ve moved onto the stage where I’m trying to remember what the old stage felt like. This book didn’t quite bring me back there.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,493 reviews2,374 followers
October 5, 2021
James Salter's 'Light Years' was one of my fave novels read in 2015, so was expecting an elegant and poetic approach to this, which it did deliver early on as the detailed descriptions were stunning. However when the term 'erotic realism' was used as the fundamental core of the content alarm bells started ringing for me, but at least I can say the setting was spot on, with the backdrop of Paris and provincial France providing a sensual paradise for young lovers Phillip Dean and shop girl Anne-Marie Cosallot to play out their intimate and searingly passionate time together. Problem is they were rather on the dull side and not too likable. Also, I believe this would have worked better for me had he trimmed it down to a novella, because everything became repetitive with sex, drives in the country, sex, hotels, dining out, more sex, and so on. The opening I absolutely adored, but things begin to feel far too romantically cliched the more I read. Maybe more one for the ladies, I don't know. As a lover of all things French there was just about enough to satisfy.
Profile Image for Alex.
1,419 reviews4,486 followers
June 3, 2016
A few years ago Esquire published a list of 80 books every man should read that was so hilariously penis-centric that even they admitted it. Here's the apotheosis of that list, a book firmly in the Miller / Bukowski tradition of young men taking their penises very seriously, a book where most of the suspense is "Will this dude's girlfriend let him try butt stuff?"


There's something going on here, though. The dude mentioned above is Dean, who drives a lot (of course it's an On the Road reference), but the author intrudes to remind us that he's making Dean up. He's obsessed with whether made-up Dean will get to try made-up butt stuff. He seems to be projecting. He's aware that he's fixated on Dean's penis. "I am creating him out of my own inadequacies," he tells us. "None of this is true," he says. "I only want whoever reads this to be as resigned as I am. There's enough passion in the world already."

In a way, this is the Driver's Seat of dick lit. It is what it is, but it's also a commentary on what it is. Like Muriel Spark's furious manifesto (although not as good, but what is?), it acknowledges and indicts you the reader. Salter gets to have his cake and butt-fuck it, too.

It's kindof great.
Profile Image for Pedro.
198 reviews433 followers
June 6, 2020
I (obviously) have never read Fifty Shades of Grey but I imagine it will be much like this one; gratuitous and meaningless.

It’s not like I think anal sex shouldn’t be a theme for a novel. No! Anal sex is a subject matter like any other one, I guess, but this was just too repetitive and over the top for my liking. Basically a pain in the ass.

What kind of audience was Salter trying to please when he came up with this thing is something I will never understand, being middle 20th century desperate housewives my first guess.

Boring, annoying and disjointed.

I honestly couldn’t see the point of all this and two other books kept on coming to my mind all the time while I was reading it: Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides with its unreliable and annoying narrator and also Annie Proulx’s The Shipping News which bored the crap out of me with its disjointed prose and dry characters.

Speaking of dry, I only wish now I could’ve found and applied some kind of lubricant to my brain so I could’ve made all this crap slip into it.

I looked everywhere as I really wanted to take some pleasure from it but the miraculous thing was nowhere to be found. Desperate, I even looked on eBay and Amazon but all I could find was the normal kind: the one used for anal sex (and vaginal dryness).

I also found loads of different hand gels though.

Oh well...
Profile Image for Mary.
428 reviews786 followers
June 3, 2016
On the floor her shoes have fallen over. Her dress has been tossed on a chair…There is her washcloth, sewn in the shape of a glove. Her cosmetics. Her comb. The box where her savings lie hidden. Oh, Anne-Marie, your existence is so pure. You have your poor childhood, postcards from the boys in St. Leger, your stepfather, your despair. Nothing can affect you, no revelation, no crime. You are like a sad story, like leaves in the street. You repeat yourself like a song.

I finished this book last night and realize now that I liked it more than the 3 stars I was planning on rating it. I cannot give only a 3 for 185 pages of prose that took my breath away. It was so so beautiful, even with all the ‘cocks’ and ‘cunts’ scattered throughout. It’s obsessive and lonely and depressing, actually, once you know that most of this isn’t even happening (I wish some of the reviews filled with outrage at the male writer’s male character’s unrealistic descriptions of anal sex knew this. It’s a fantasy. How many fantasies do you have that are an accurate portrayal of how something would be? What would be the point in that?).

Impotent lust and idleness. Phillip Dean and Anne-Marie – did they exist? Probably not. Or probably they were those people you see across a building or in a restaurant and never see again, but somewhere in your head they’ve implanted themselves and their imaginary lives take off like a runaway train. The narrator’s omnipresence is creepy and brooding. We soon come to see that it’s Phillip Dean, not Anne-Marie, that he’s self-consciously coveting.

I am not telling the truth about Dean, I am inventing him. I am creating him out of my own inadequacies, you must always remember that.

With my reading choices in the past year or two, I’ve come to realize that I’m an unreliable narrator enthusiast. Maybe it’s all the real-life unreliable narrators I’ve known, the lies we tell (to ourselves), these imaginations we have. The overall effect of this novel snuck up on me. And the ending: slow, yet abrupt, like waking from a dream. And sad, sad, sad.

He no longer lives in years; he is down to seasons. Finally, it will become single nights, each one perilous as a lunar journey.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
661 reviews
December 15, 2007
absolutely some of the most beautiful prose ever. seriously. i'm now a james salter devotee.

i'm glad i never had to read this book in a school setting because it's the kind of book that would be completely spoiled by literary analysis. "what phallic symbolism lies in the car?" "who is the narrator?" "how does the imvaginazation of the anus figure into the narrator's detachment from modern society?" blah. blah. BLAH. pick this up and let the language take you. forget the rest.
Profile Image for Bianca.
1,083 reviews921 followers
December 10, 2018
I have mixed feelings about A Sport and a Pastime. I'll try to express them here, although I'm sporting a headache and am not really in the mood to write a review.

I came across this novel and its author only three days ago, through a GR friend's raving review. The literary raunchiness intrigued me, so I promptly borrowed it from my local library.

The good bits:
- I love the cover and the title;
- I loved the French setting, beautifully described by Salter, especially the drub, wet and dark winter days. It's a very atmospheric novel. Some paragraphs were exquisite.

The rest:
- The narration was really strange, as it's told in the first person by a voyeur/friend of the main male character, the twenty-four-year-old American, Dean. Early on, this guy professes that it may not be true, or that it's a mix of his dreaming, imaginings and, maybe, reality. How would he know what really happened? This aspect of the novel really discombobulated me. I was on the look-out, paying attention to see where he's hiding.
- There is a lot of repetitive sex, which was fine. It didn't do anything for me, if anything, it was all very unsexy. I personally didn't have any issues with the language or the acts. I just didn't feel the connection between Dean and his nineteen-year-old French lover, Anne-Marie. I many respects, they were like an old married couple, without the sex: drive around France, eat out, book a room somewhere, then have sex. Rince and repeat. There wasn't much dialogue, meeting of souls, flirting or playfulness. I didn't feel their chemistry at all.
- There is some casual racism going on - it didn't bother me, as I could contextualise - it all takes place in the 1960s.
- The secondary characters didn't add much to the story either.

While I'm not sorry I read it, I'm still somewhat confused. I would like to read something else by Salter, as despite not finding this story terribly appealing, I did like his writing style.
Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,458 followers
January 12, 2018
Wow, I really liked this.

It is not going to be for everybody. The book is sexually explicit, but not in a crude way. The sex, as it is presented, is not perverted. There are many pages describing plain good, good sex. Such is not going to fit everybody's taste. I was little aware the book would be as steamy as it turned out to be! This is a book for adults.

Yet, and this is essential, I would not classify this as erotica. Erotica is usually written for the sole purpose of sexual arousal. There is more to this book than just enticing sex. This is a story focused on character portrayal. It is a story I became immensely engaged in. We are forewarned of how it will end, but that didn't matter to me in the least; I needed to know the exact details.

Do you need to like the characters in a story? If so, the book might not be for you either.

Here is brief outline that gives you the gist of the story. It is set in France during the 1960s. It is told by an unnamed narrator. He is American. What we are told is his story and it is his creation. This must not be forgotten. He is in Paris with friends. They invite him to stay at their vacant house in Autun, a small provincial town in the Saône-et-Loire department of France. This is located in the eastern part of central France. At a party with friends, he meets another American, Philip Dean, also visiting France. Soon after settling himself in Autun, with plans to write undisturbed, Dean shows up at the door hoping for a few nights of free lodging. He stays a few days. they talk, they eat out they become friends. Then Dean continues his travels, taking along with him Anne Marie, a shop clerk of the town. She had drawn his fancy. Dean travels around France with Anne Marie, returning from time to time to Autun.

The writer, he stays put and he writes. What about? About Dean and about Anne Marie. What he had seen, what they had talked about and what he imagines. This is very much a story about the art of storytelling, about creating more from the mere ordinary. It is fascinating to see the story created, what is retained of the ordinary and what is aggrandized. Life in the large cities is compared to provincial life too.

The writing is excellent, even if occasionally the metaphors fell flat for me.

The audiobook is narrated by Jeff Woodman. I do not know what to say except that it was very well done. You just sit and listen and don´t want to stop for a second.

I really, really liked this. I enjoyed the trip from start to finish. Then, at the book’s end, the trip is still not over; there is so much left to think about!

Books I have read by James Salter:

A Sport and a Pastime 4 stars
Light Years 4 stars
All That Is 3 stars
Profile Image for Roberto.
627 reviews1 follower
February 6, 2019

Il frutto della passione

Ho pensato molto, mentre leggevo questo libro, a come mai sia così difficile "raccontare" il sesso e l'erotismo. Probabilmente, mi sono detto, è perché nessuno di noi normalmente ne parla. Il sesso si fa, si immagina. E' fatto di sguardi, di pensieri, di sensazioni, di contatti, quasi mai di parole.

Ed è questa la ragione per cui è rarissimo che la descrizione romanzata del sesso sia intrigante o quantomeno interessante. Che io ricordi, solo lo Spencer di Amore senza fine ottiene ottimi risultati in merito.

Questo di James Salter è un romanzo in cui un narratore racconta l'amore di due giovani, lui 24 e lei 18. La narrazione ha un andamento lento, malinconico, decadente, quasi triste. Il libro è del 1967 e Salter aveva dunque 42 anni quando lo scrisse; forse una età in cui si inizia a guardare malinconicamente al passato, più che al presente?

Difficile, come dicevo, raccontare il sesso. Si scade facilmente nel ridicolo o si rischia di essere noiosi oppure volgari. Qui Salter non è mai volgare, bisogna dargliene atto. E scrive bene, molto bene, dannatamente bene. Ma la bellezza dello scrivere va presto a cozzare contro l'inconcludenza generale e le descrizioni di amore tra i due giovani mi hanno presto annoiato e troppo spesso divertito. Non riesco a rimanere serio di fronte a frasi del genere:

"È sopraffatto. Mentre il suo cazzo entra dentro di lei, scopre il mondo. Conosce la fonte dei numeri, il percorso delle stelle. Da qualche parte la musica si riversa su di loro"

O come quando un ventiquattrenne pensa, come Cracco durante una degustazione di dolci, "la sua fica ha il sapore di pesca".

Il libro narra una storia d'amore descrivendo spazi, luoghi, alberghi, atmosfere, luci, sensazioni. I dialoghi sono minimali, la trama quasi irrilevante e inconsistente.
Mi ha ricordato, per certi versi, Tenera è la notte, che purtroppo non sono riuscito ad apprezzare, forse per le stesse ragioni per cui ho un po' faticato con questo.

Malinconico, distaccato, un po' Modiano, un po' Fitzgerald. Per me, onestamente, un po' troppo freddo e senza mordente.
Primo libro di Salter che leggo; ho la sensazione non sia nelle mie corde.
Profile Image for Gabrielle.
1,018 reviews1,183 followers
July 15, 2019
This book is very strange.

It is very, very well written. The prose is economical, yet very evocative, almost cinematic. You can see exactly what James Salter wants you to see, and he wants you to see some rather specific and intimate thing. There is a lot to unpack there, about the nature of desire, intimacy, longing, escape... But it will leave you with more questions than answers.

The narrator is as unreliable as they make it. Is anything he is telling us real, or is he making it all up? He might also be making up a certain part of it in order to avoid telling us how he actually feels around things. The only thing we know is that he can't have possibly witnessed every detail he serves us first hand.

I couldn't help but find that some elements in there were really simple male fantasy fulfillment. I can't tell if that was done deliberately (since our narrator might be lying to us) or if it was unconscious.

The blurb on my copy talks about Fitzgerald and Flaubert. This made me scratch my head. I'm quite certain Mr. Salter read both of them, and probably admired them greatly, but I am not sure his insight into human nature is as good as theirs was.

This is a good book, though not as good as I thought it would be. 3 and a half stars, rounded down.
Profile Image for robin friedman.
1,814 reviews241 followers
August 15, 2023
Sexuality And Sadness

"A Sport and a Pastime" (1968) is the third novel of the American writer James Salter (b. 1925). Before becoming a writer, Salter lived an energetic life as a West Point graduate and a fighter pilot. I read this book because I loved Salter's novel "Light Years", which was his next novel after this one. Salter remains unknown to many readers. The two books I have read show Salter as the master of a lyrical, precise, and highly distinctive writing style. Salter writes of eroticism and passion tinged with sadness and with the inevitability of loss.

The book is set in France in the late 1950s and features three primary characters, two American men and a young French woman. The story is told by a nameless narrator, an American man of 34, college-educated, who is visiting old companions from school in the United States. The narrator tells something of his own story combined with the story of a young man whom he befriends during his stay, Phillip Dean. Dean, age 24, is highly intelligent but footloose. He has been touring Spain and then visits France after twice dropping out, he claims due to boredom, from Yale. Dean is the son of a wealthy American family. His father and sister are also staying in Paris. While in a bistro in Autumn, France, Dean and the narrator meet an 18-year old French shopgirl, Anne-Marie. Dean and Anne-Marie quickly begin a highly-charged and erotic love affair. The description of the affair, through the eyes of the narrator, takes up most of the book.

The narrator admits his unreliability. At the simplest level, the erotic affair between Dean and Anne-Marie, while described in the most intimate detail, mostly takes place out of sight of the narrator. The accuracy of the account is questionable. More importantly, the narrator is unlike Dean in many ways. In early middle age, the narrator, although highly literate and perceptive, has difficulty approaching women sexually. In the initial scenes of the book, the narrator is attracted to at least two young women travelling with him on the train, makes eye contact, but will not approach them. As the book progresses, he becomes highly enamored with another young woman but does not approach her. She becomes engaged. The narrator has a life of sexual frustration.

The narrator sees his friend Dean as heroic, with a self-confident swagger. Dean is a man who knows what he wants and how to get it with women. Dean also leads a life of bravado, as he recklessly drives an expensive French sports car, borrowed from a friend, and spends money, which he increasingly cadges from family and friends, with little restraint. With its recklessness and improvidence, there are many intimations in the book that Phillip Dean's life will be short. The narrator's portrayal of his friend may in part be a projection of the narrator's own felt inadequacies and his own dreams. The matter is left ambiguous. My own feeling is that his story is mostly true. But whether it is a projection or a factual account is largely irrelevant. The book, in the story of Annie-Marie and Phillip Dean, captures the force of erotic love, of passion, and of heartbreak.

The highly-charged language and style of this novel show a writer with a sense of mastery of what he wants to do. The novel has an explicitness in its sexual content that was unusual in a work of literature of the time and that still retains its force. Salter contrasts the fire of his Dean and Anne-Marie, with the lives of frustration and boredom of the narrator and of the book's secondary characters. Salter has an extraordinary sense of France, especially of small towns, cafes, hotels, shops, and ordinary people outside the range of tourists. He is an almost painterly writer who is taken with the surfaces of things, with sex and with fast cars, that some might find superficial. Yet there is a sense of mystery in this book, of passion, and of loss.

Among other books, "A Sport and a Pastime" reminded me of Kerouac's "On the Road." Kerouac and Salter were in fact schoolmates for a short time. Salter's writing is far more elegant and disciplined than is Kerouac's. But Phillip Dean, with his rootlessness and recklessness, love of cars, and energetic sexuality shows parallels to Kerouac's Dean Moriarty/Neal Cassady in "On the Road". So to, the narrator in Salter's novel, with his ambivalences and almost hero-worship of Dean, resembles in many ways Sal Paradise/Kerouac, the narrator of Kerouac's famous novel. Kerouac's book has achieved greater public recognition, and I would not want to judge as between the two novels. But Salter's book is far more concentrated and has a much more mannered and elaborate literary style.

It is a great pleasure to discover a writer one has not known before. Salter's "A Sport and a Pastime" and "Light Years" have brought me poetry and thought. Readers willing to explore a unique American writer will enjoy these books.

Robin Friedman
Profile Image for Eric.
570 reviews1,013 followers
December 28, 2015
NickD’s indictment needs no additional count, so I will only register this novel’s activation of a collegiate boredom, a tedium I associate with a curricular corpus of films—mostly French, half-remembered, all untitled—in which chance couplings play out in an atmosphere of languorous tension and momentous triviality, silences and shrugged ouis. But, much like the boredom of those films, the boredom of Dean and Anne-Marie’s liaison (as distinct from the narrator’s other activities, inventions and observations) becomes, with the passage of chapters, tolerable, even at times habitable under the bracing formal cool of Salter’s writing. I like to think that the composer Ned Rorem, an admirer of A Sport and a Pastime, found in Salter’s style what he found in Debussy and Ravel—“a sound paradoxically opulent and lean," "sumptuous bones.” I also like that this novel, unlike, say, Guy Davenport’s Bordeaux-set “Some Lines of Virgil,” keeps aloof from sun-drenched sexual pastoral, the slicked and sweltering afternoon of the faun, and instead eroticizes a wintry drizzly France. Salter gives us an eroticism of refuge, of shelter—strangers driven into each other’s warmth:

It’s a bitter night. Flats of rain are passing. Heavy drops ring in the gutter outside their window, but they are in a dovecote, they are pigeons beneath the eaves. The rain is falling all around them. Deep in feathers, breathing softly, they lie. His sperm swims slowly inside her, oozing out between her legs.

This is the first book I’ve reviewed but not rated. Awareness of its longueurs and indifference to its lovers cannot cancel the afterglow of its style, or the faint itch to read it again.

As for the car, it's a curious thing--it's registered in the name of Pritchard, 16 bis rue Jardin, and they know him. He's off in Greece for the summer, they think, but they'll handle that, too. Perhaps. It's parked under the trees near the house and locked, but like an old man fading, it has already begun crumbling before one's eyes. The tires seem smooth. There are leaves fallen on the hood, the whitened roof. Around the wheels one can detect the first, faint discoloring of chrome. The leather inside, seen through windows which are themselves streaked blue, is dry and cracked. There it sits, this stilled machine, the electric clock on the dash ticking unheard, slowly draining the last of life. And one day the clock is wrong. The hands are frozen. It is ended.

Profile Image for Gary.
39 reviews76 followers
September 1, 2015
With its implausible narrative, one-dimensional characters, and gratuitous sex, I wasn't impressed with James Salter's A Sport and a Pastime (1967). Set in 1960s Autun, France, this minor novel tells the story of a Yale drop-out, Philip Dean, and a 19-year-old French girl, Anne-Marie, as witnessed by an unnamed narrator, a 34-year-old photographer living in France. The narrator acknowledges that much of his story (including graphic sex) is in fact drawn from his own voyeuristic fantasies of the couple: "None of this is true . . . It's a story of things that never existed." He admits that some things "I saw, some discovered, and some dreamed, and I can no longer differentiate between them." (One can't help but wonder why this fellow spends his time imagining his friends in bed.) But Salter's improbable narrative isn't as much of a problem as his flatly-drawn characters. Philip and Anne-Marie never escape their one-dimensional characters over the course of the 185-page novel, and their affaire de coeur which has so much potential never becomes interesting mostly because there is no discernable connection between them. Despite the novel's shortcomings, Salter's writing does have its share of memorable moments, as in this instance: “Great lovers lie in hell, the poet says. Even now, long afterwards, I cannot destroy the images. They remain within me like the yearnings of an addict. I need only hear certain words, see certain gestures, and my thoughts begin to tumble. I despise myself for thinking of her. Even if she were dead, I would feel the same. Her existence blackens my life.”
Profile Image for Sheri Hopsy.
202 reviews25 followers
November 27, 2017
I thought when I started reading this book it would be disappointing because of the boring sex obsessed bits. But in its context and with the strange voyeuristic descriptions by his friend/ older self it is quite an amazing read. You have insight into the fickleness of the young man and his fraudulent behaviour and the sad situation of the lower class girl. As usual Salter writes beautifully and that takes you on their journey. In its day, with out a fairy tale ending and the obsessiveness of the infatuation it must have been unusual.
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