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Last Night: Stories - James Salter
The effect was cumulative. From start to finish I followed a series of unrelated but analogous and increasingly involving incidents, each featuring lovers in a varying states of desire, devotion or disrepair. The book, a short story collection, opens with a simple wedding and ends with a couple’s botched go at euthanasia, which wound up seeming the beginning and ending of one loosely woven account, a continuum of relationships. To start I was yawning; by the end I was too verklempt to breathe.

I’d have trouble telling you who any of the characters were. None became more familiar than an acquaintance. There’s a good deal of conversation, but it’s not character-driven. Dialogue, description, whatever, it’s all about incidents. Unlike the characters, the incidents made distinct impressions, and this is what most impresses me about the telling: Through little more than accumulating sketches, Salter evokes intimacies and emotions that add up to personal depths. Taken singly, I’m not sure more than one or two of the stories would amount to more than a wade, but I became immersed in the whole.

Assorted lines and passages caught my attention like shimmering threads weaving one bit to another in a piecemeal fashion that felt ultimately of a piece, each an example of the language through which Salter breathes life.

-- “He pretends he can’t help it, she said. I’ve had the same thing happen. I was going by Bergdorf’s one day and saw a green coat in the window that I liked and I went in and bought it. Then a little while later, someplace else, I saw one that was better than the first one, I thought, so I bought that. Anyway, by the time I was finished I had four green coats hanging in the closet just because I couldn’t control my desires.” –

-- “He didn’t move. After a bit she walked toward the house where, extravagantly, every window upstairs and down was lit. He stood where he was, looking up at the sky and then at her as she became smaller and smaller going across the lawn, reaching first the aura, then the brightness, then tripping on the kitchen steps.” –

-- “They ate dinner in silence. Her husband did not look at her. Her face annoyed him, he did not know why. She could be good-looking but there were times when she was not. Her face was like a series of photographs, some of which ought to be thrown away.” –

-- “I’m a little afraid, he said. I can’t explain it.
Of course you are. Her voice had such understanding. Really. I know . . . Anyway, I just wanted to see your apartment. Her voice suddenly sounded funny. She seemed not to want to go on.
He realized then, as she sat there, a woman in his apartment at night, a woman he knew he loved, that she was really giving him one last chance. He knew he should take it.
Ah, Noreen, he said.
After that night, she vanished. --