You could say about this collection: "These aren't stories, they're sketches." And you'd have a point. But the thing about Salter is that he shows you only what's needed, then invites you to imagine the rest. This was true in his 1967 novel, A Sport and a Pastime. Almost 40 years later, it still is. When I think of Salter, I'm reminded of John Updike's remark, "A psychoanalyst talking is like playing golf on the moon --- even a chip shot carries for miles." Salter hits chip shots.
Many will find this writing overly mannered. Yes, there are crumpled napkins on tables uncleared from last night's dinner party: "glasses still with dark remnant on them, coffee stains, and plates with bits of hardened Brie." Privileged women pine for love -- or sex. At a man's funeral, there are women the widow has never seen before. A married man is having an affair with a male friend. A hill is made from a pile of junked cars. A romantic opportunity is missed.
Salter is too discreet to shove the engine room of life into our faces, but it's very much there. One story ends with a woman dying of cancer --- a young woman. Another focuses on an older woman on what is to be the final night of her life: "She had a face now that was for the afterlife and those she would meet there." The sentences drop, regular as coins. Salter's cadences are so hypnotic it's easy to miss them. But they are arrows to the real subject of these stories, which are, like the best stories about adult men and women, about honor and love in the face of death.
"Last Night." 132 pages. Ten stories. They may read like trifles, like exercises, like parlor tricks --- but you can't forget them. Could it be because they are small masterpieces?