James Salter has always been one of my absolutely favourite writers. Part of my fascination with him arises from the fact that, in reality, there are many aspects of his writing that I don’t admire. He doesn’t write good stories, his characters are shallow and not memorable. He writes about a world of spoilt, middle-class Americans who one doesn’t want to meet. But there is something in the prose which frequently leaves one gasping. His writing is wonderfully banal and cruel and sensuous. He takes you right the reality of what it is to live in this world. He was undoubtedly one of the top prose stylists of the last century and the short story is a form which suits him well.
First published in The New Yorker, November 2002, and available to subscribers to read online here. Collected in Last Night, Alfred A. Knopf 2005/Picador, 2007