Even in a year that saw the release of a blockbuster work of nonfiction about blockbusters called 'Blockbusters,' many of the best books were small enough in scope to hide their ambition. As George Saunders continued to play cutman for the American short story, two English journalists journeyed across continents in an attempt to map alcohol's role in culture and an ex-NFL tight end pulled back the curtain on life in the locker room. The world of men was scratched across book after book. These are the ones you need to read.
'All That Is'
'All That Is'
By James Salter
Alfred A. Knopf
At age 88, James Salter remains one of the great American writers. His 'A Sport and a Pastime' (1967) is an outright masterpiece, and it's tempting to say the same about his latest novel, 'All That Is.' It's about the adult life of Phillip Bowman, who makes his way from World War II's Pacific theater (Salter himself was a fighter pilot) to an office at a publishing house and a home shared with a Southern belle. At first, the style is a little jarring. Lives are spent and done in a matter of pages. Years speed past and events that seem full of meaning get negated, bluntly, 10 pages later. But once you get used to Salter's godly perspective, the book begins to have a cumulative effect. It's not comforting or consoling, but it feels like life as it's actually lived. It's clear-eyed, never maudlin, and Bowman is a living creature, awash in doubt, capable of kindnesses and stunning cruelties, circumspect about the fact that the story he tells himself about his life may not be totally true.