Solo Faces

I read about James Salter through other reviews of Bill Finnegan’s Barbarian Days, the subject of my last blog. Salter was a highly regarded stylist of his era, but seems to have never achieved quite the same general recognition of some his peers – John Updike, Richard Ford, Jack Kerouac or Norman Mailer.

What interested me is that Salter wrote books about action. He started out as a fighter pilot, flying more than a hundred combat missions over Korea in the early 1950s. His first novel was about these experiences and was subsequently made into a film, The Hunters starring Robert Michum and Robert Wagner.

He resigned from the Air Force to pursue a career as a writer, and much of his subsequent work deals with sport, adventure and physical endeavour. These are themes of much of my own work, and I’m always interested to see such action portrayed.

Salter would appear to have been influenced by the grand old man of literary action, Ernest Hemingway, with short sentences and very little dialogue attribution (sometimes too little to read clearly and easily). It’s not my thing, but it’s very effective when done well.

Solo Faces follows the fate of an American climber, Verne Rand as he departs hippy LA in the sixties for the much less forgiving snow and ice of the Alps. There he drifts, finally attempting a succession of notable climbs in pursuit of…. In pursuit of what?

This seems to be the question that Salter wants to answer – why do men do these things, take these risks? And – while I had issues with the arbitrary and spell-breaking shifts in viewpoint, the occasional racism and the role of women in this tale – Salter does get close to an answer worth reading.