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Burning the Days (Anglais) Broché – Version intégrale, 2 mars 2007
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Un grand livre écrit magnifiquement - dans sa version originale, je n'ai pas lu la traduction - par un écrivain et un homme hors du commun.
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Salter's novels are case studies of what I'd call male mythology. The heroes of "Hunters" and "Solo Faces" seem trapped in hyper gender roles, testing always both a kind of grace under pressure and an ability to endure physical and psychological extremes. "Burning the Days" turns out to be a celebration of those values, where to be a man is to embark on a long, lonely journey of proving that one is both like and better than other men.
The book is his own story of emerging from a fairly nondescript youth in New York to the life-transforming experience of West Point and a career as a pilot, along with the getting of a kind of worldly wisdom during times spent in Europe, especially Paris. His life as a writer introduces him to literary circles in New York and abroad and an international community of filmmakers and film stars.
Through it all, Salter focuses often on the men around him who earn his respect. He marvels at the particular integrity that makes each of them admirable. He elevates each of them into a kind of pantheon, and when all is said and done, he hopes that his own life warrants him a place among them. By contrast, the women who pass through his life are remarked upon for their beauty and intelligence, but beyond that they are walk-ons in this book about men. Readers may be taken by his old-fashioned glamorizing of women, or they may take exception to it.
Brilliantly written, the book is compelling for what it sets out to do - provide a remembrance of things past that not only captures moments and people in vivid detail but bathes them in a melancholy glow - like richly detailed sepia photographs.
It is, in fact, a great deal more than that. Like Casanova's immortal memoir, this is the work of an old man looking back on the dazzling life he relished but which has vanished forever. As such, a funereal darkness lurks behind every sunlit memory, an abyss of ruin underneath every bejewelled sentence. There is a sad wisdom in these pages that makes "Burning the Days" a timeless classic, belonging to no one generation but to all.
Salter's writing style is unusual. The syntax often makes one stop and reconstruct, thus stop and think. On rare occasions it's nonsensical. I particularly was annoyed with the confusion of general pronouns among mixed proper pronouns, the result being that I couldn't figure out who he was talking about. That said, his use of the language is superb. It's there in all of his work. And he's a wonderful "observer and describer" of people and things.
His life story is, of course, fascinating. Raised in privilege in NYC. West Point. Combat jet fighter pilot. Author. Director. Screeenwriter. Literary socialite. World traveler.
His singularly candid recounting of his years at West Point was excellent in quality and style. He gives West Point to us warts and all. And his internal struggles. Loathing it, living it, finally loving it.
The tales of flight are absolutely riveting. Nobody does it better. True storytelling that sometimes touches your heart, and sometimes raises your heartrate with the tension. In reading these memoirs I found that as I had suspected, his first novel, "The Hunters", was largely autobiographical. For me, this only adds to the greatness of that work.
The writing years seemed to be a little slower reading. At least for me. And I can't decide whether Salter was indulging in a little "name dropping". In any case, he travels in high company. He is loyal to and generous to his friends. Plenty of saucy tales, no vulgarity. Well done.
I do not share his love for Paris. Salter breathes it. Perhaps it rejected me, as Salter claims Rome rejected him. No matter - Salter is an accomplished individual, in a wordly way, and travels in circles far above the heads of most of us. He does not claim to be atheist, but his overtures toward God (or gods) are tenuous and ambiguous. As I wrote earlier, I'm not sure I like him - but I savour his work.
This is an unusual autobiography of rare quality. Generally, Salter presents himself as he often presents his fictional characters. If you've read any of his novels, you understand what I mean.
This autobiography is not for the People magazine crowd. It is thoughtful and broad in scope, spanning an accomplished man's life. I recommend it.
James Salter certainly has burned through his days, as this oddly structured, intensely lyrical memoir demonstrates. He's best known (properly) as the author of two of my favorite post-war novels--A Sport and a Pastime and Light Years. He wrote the screenplay for the icy, piercing Downhill Racer, one of Robert Redford's best films. Before becoming a writer, he graduated West Point and fought in the Korean War as an Air Force fighter pilot.
Also, to his credit, he embraced the post-war possibilities open to an American man: see (and rule) the world; educate yourself as a world citizen; help re-construct, if only by your love, Western Europe; and never cease to admire our country's incomparable landscapes and coincident opportunities.
By all appearances, Salter has known power--been close to it--but never allowed that closeness to ruin him as an artist. He evokes the circles of power, the famous faces, with their fantastic, distorted personalities, with intriguing delicacy. He's also had the good sense to fall in love a few times. Anyone who has picked up A Sport and a Pastime already knows how precisely, how lethally he records the burning choreography of love.
I don't know if it's still possible for an American man to burn the days as Salter did. There are obstacles on all sides--foremost among them our post-Reagan isolationism and moralistic fervor, our proud Crawford stupidity, our decadent laziness. Reading this book, I couldn't help but lament what we're becoming (which is probably another way of saying, What I'm becoming). This book allows us the secondary pleasure of envying Salter--which is an important pleasure, as it means that something essential is not yet forgotten.
There is no doubting James Salter lived an interesting life and drank from the lees more than most of us, and yet the one defect of this rich memoir is its morally flawed author. Salter seems to have not the slightest hesitation in sleeping with someone's wife or betraying his own wife for that matter. Adultery seems almost par for the course of being someone who is someone. Knowledge of women (many women), like knowledge of books and wines, seems almost a requirement to being cultured, to having truly lived. Which is perfectly acceptable, I suppose, if that's what you believe. But the problem is that the most emotionally honest part of this book comes when Salter briefly mentions the death of his daughter. The pain in his words stand in counterbalance to all the frivolity of his affairs throughout the book. And I found myself thinking that Salter would have done his daughter much better if he had never betrayed his wife, had never run off to Europe and other places for months at a time and sipped wine from golden goblets with genuises and moviestars. It's a consideration I believe Salter takes into account also.
The book succeeds because the author does not try to recapture the past (the days that he has burned away) or to ever justify his actions, but only the impressions that they have left him. And so if we are not given the whole picture, we are at least presented with a small part of the indelible proof of a life remembered, and the wisdom gained by having lived it.