Last Night is a spellbinding collection of stories about passion-by turns fiery and subdued, destructive and redemptive, alluring and devastating. These ten powerful stories portray men and women in their most intimate moments. A lover of poetry is asked by his wife to give up what may be his most treasured relationship. A book dealer is forced to face the truth about his life. And in the title story, a translator assists his wife's suicide, even as he performs a last act of betrayal. James Salter's assured style and emotional insight make him one of our most essential writers From the Trade Paperback edition.
- PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
Teetering marriages, collapsing relationships and other calamities of the heart drive these 10 compact, unsettling stories by respected writer Salter (A Sport and a Pastime, etc.). The title story is especially impressive--when Walter Much and his seriously ill wife, Marit, agree that he will assist in her suicide, Marit insists that Susanna, a mutual friend, come over to keep them company in her final moments. Nothing goes as planned, however, and Walter's double betrayal of his wife ushers in the haunting conclusion. The reunion stories are equally compelling: in "Palm Court," a man who initially failed to marry the love of his life meets her years later after her divorce only to find himself overwhelmed and distraught by the mixed feelings she rouses in him. "Bangkok" offers a different take on the reunion angle, as a woman tries to tempt an old flame into joining her and her female traveling companion on a sexually adventurous, last-second trip to the Far East, despite his being happily married and claiming to be satisfied with his sedate, settled life. The reserved, elegiac nature of Salter's prose and his mannered, well-bred characters lend the collection a distanced tone, but at their best these are stirring stories, worthy additions to a formidable body of work.
Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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March 13, 2006
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Excerpt from Last Night by James Salter
Philip married Adele on a day in June. It was cloudy and the wind was blowing. Later the sun came out. It had been a while since Adele had married and she wore white: white pumps with low heels, a long white skirt that clung to her hips, a filmy blouse with a white bra underneath, and around her neck a string of freshwater pearls. They were married in her house, the one she'd gotten in the divorce. All her friends were there. She believed strongly in friendship. The room was crowded.
-- I, Adele, she said in a clear voice, give myself to you, Phil, completely as your wife . . . Behind her as best man, somewhat oblivious, her young son was standing, and pinned to her panties as something borrowed was a small silver disc, actually a St. Christopher's medal her father had worn in the war; she had several times rolled down the waistband of her skirt to show it to people. Near the door, under the impression that she was part of a garden tour, was an old woman who held a little dog by the handle of a cane hooked through his collar.
At the reception Adele smiled with happiness, drank too much, laughed, and scratched her bare arms with long showgirl nails. Her new husband admired her. He could have licked her palms like a calf does salt. She was still young enough to be good-looking, the final blaze of it, though she was too old for children, at least if she had anything to say about it. Summer was coming. Out of the afternoon haze she would appear, in her black bathing suit, limbs all tan, the brilliant sun behind her. She was the strong figure walking up the smooth sand from the sea, her legs, her wet swimmer's hair, the grace of her, all careless and unhurried.
They settled into life together, hers mostly. It was her furniture and her books, though they were largely unread. She liked to tell stories about DeLereo, her first husband--Frank, his name was--the heir to a garbage-hauling empire. She called him Delerium, but the stories were not unaffectionate. Loyalty--it came from her childhood as well as the years of marriage, eight exhausting years, as she said--was her code. The terms of marriage had been simple, she admitted. Her job was to be dressed, have dinner ready, and be fucked once a day. One time in Florida with another couple they chartered a boat to go bonefishing off Bimini.
-- We'll have a good dinner, DeLereo had said happily, get on board and turn in. When we get up we'll have passed the Gulf Stream.
It began that way but ended differently. The sea was very rough. They never did cross the Gulf Stream--the captain was from Long Island and got lost. DeLereo paid him fifty dollars to turn over the wheel and go below.
-- Do you know anything about boats? the captain asked.
-- More than you do, DeLereo told him.
He was under an ultimatum from Adele, who was lying, deathly pale, in their cabin. -- Get us into port somewhere or get ready to sleep by yourself, she'd said.
Philip Ardet heard the story and many others often. He was mannerly and elegant, his head held back a bit as he talked, as though you were a menu. He and Adele had met on the golf course when she was learning to play. It was a wet day and the course was nearly empty. Adele and a friend were teeing off when a balding figure carrying a cloth bag with a few clubs in it asked if he could join them. Adele hit a passable drive. Her friend bounced his across the road and teed up another, which he topped. Phil, rather shyly, took out an old three wood and hit one two hundred yards straight down the fairway.
That was his persona, capable and calm. He'd gone to Princeton and been in the navy. He looked like someone who'd been in the navy, Adele said--his legs were strong. The first time she went out with him, he remarked it was a funny thing, some people liked him, some didn't.
-- The ones that do, I tend to lose interest in.
She wasn't sure just what that meant but she liked his appearance, which was a bit worn, especially around the eyes. It made her feel he was a real man, though perhaps not the man he had been. Also he was smart, as she explained it, more or less the way professors were.
To be liked by her was worthwhile but to be liked by him seemed somehow of even greater value. There was something about him that discounted the world. He appeared in a way to care nothing for himself, to be above that.
He didn't make much money, as it turned out. He wrote for a business weekly. She earned nearly that much selling houses. She had begun to put on a little weight. This was a few years after they were married. She was still beautiful--her face was--but she had adopted a more comfortable outline. She would get into bed with a drink, the way she had done when she was twenty-five. Phil, a sport jacket over his pajamas, sat reading. Sometimes he walked that way on their lawn in the morning. She sipped her drink and watched him.