EW Staff
March 30, 2007 AT 04:00 AM EDT

J.R. Moehringer wants you to read ”A Sport and a Pastime”

James Salter is the king, the beau ideal in several genres. He’s written a classic screenplay, timeless short stories, a memoir that ranks with the 20th century’s best — but the third of his five superb novels might be his masterpiece. Published in 1967, A Sport and a Pastime describes the erotic road trips of Dean, a Yale dropout in his 20s, and Anne-Marie, a sexpot not yet out of her teens. They meet in a Dijon café and off they go, exploring the French countryside, and each other. Lyrical but lean, nostalgic but stoic, the novel resists all easy classification. After pages of crisp details, of perfect Hemingway-esque realism, everything turns suddenly postmodern: Salter’s narrator admits he’s merely telling untruths, and dares us to care. Then, at other moments, the novel becomes pure unbridled erotica. The most arresting passages can’t be quoted in polite company, which is just as well. The point isn’t passion, but process, how we perceive and remember and describe our sensory experience of life — and how we fill the gaps with the words and images of others. ”There’s enough passion in the world already,” Salter’s narrator asserts. ”Not that I believe it shouldn’t exist, no, no, but this is only a thin, reflecting sliver which somehow keeps catching the light.”

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