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Last Night by James Salter

Delectable Stories

Finding the work of a living, master storyteller can prove to be quite a task. I tend to picture our era sliding along the downward slope of a great literature curve. The human condition is universal, and as writers have been exposing it for hundreds of years, it's been expressed from every angle imaginable. Many of our contemporaries have made careers out of packaging yesterday's literature in attractive covers and passing it off as modern.

But, although they aren't littering the streets or the bookstores, a modest legion of writers maintain the power of their historical counterparts to express the magnitude of what flies under the radar. Luckily James Salter, the crowd's ringleader has released his newest book since last century, Last Night, just in time for summer.

Adding to the modest show of genius that is Salter's collected works, Last Night is a collection of short stories, each an indulgent representation of human emotion in the privacy of everyday life as it exists for most of us. Salter's writing provides just enough detail to create strong original characters and situations that still remain malleable to individual interpretation. He has a distinct ability to capture romance in a poetic context that reveals its magnitude in situations where often unnoticed.

Last Night presents itself as evidence for Salter's ability to express a fantastical world of hyper-emotion in a way that avoids wordy pretenses. His plots remain extremely simple in order to spotlight the characters, the variety of which represent the range of readers and further extends a ground for connection. "Bangkok" covers a span of mere minutes over terse dialogue, however the words not spoken between its characters leap off the page as if Salter had expressly written them. "So Much Fun" occupies a similar style, as a simple dialogue between female friends leaves one to ponder the value of her last days. It is this appealing quality that leaves the reader feeling as though they've opened the book of their own past or future.

The story titles read like a night out on the town. With names like "Platinum," "So Much Fun," and "Bangkok " the reader can expect to encounter stories of disillusionment amongst the upper class. Such disillusionment spawns cases of infidelity along with the daunting reality of death, both of which surface as common themes. In spite of common threads sewn throughout the book -- the men are the ones cheating and the women the ones dying -- Salter's portrayal of all that happens in the face of these situations remains completely genderless. The plight of the male is as potent to the female reader and vice versa. Customary to a work of Salter, unisexual emotion plagues Last Night and shows his propensity to evolve as the titles collect.

You will want to savor Last Night. Much like a delectable box of chocolates, each story will provide an occasion for appreciating the human senses. Be aware that revelations spawned by Salter's work may leave readers scouring bookstores for past titles.

Last Night by James Salter
Knopf
April 19, 2005
Hardback/$20.00
ISBN: 1-40004-312-3
144 pages