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Light Years [Paperback]

James Salter
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 31 1995 Vintage International
This exquisite, resonant novel by PEN/Faulkner winner James Salter is a brilliant portrait of a marriage by a contemporary American master. It is the story of Nedra and Viri, whose favored life is centered around dinners, ingenious games with their children, enviable friends, and near-perfect days passed skating on a frozen river or sunning on the beach. But even as he lingers over the surface of their marriage, Salter lets us see the fine cracks that are spreading through it, flaws that will eventually mar the lovely picture beyond repair. Seductive, witty, and elegantly nuanced, Light Years is a classic novel of an entire generation that discovered the limits of its own happiness—and then felt compelled to destroy it.

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Product Description


“Extraordinary . . . at once tender, exultant, unabashedly sexual, sensual, and profoundly sad. Light Years is a masterpiece.”
—Elizabeth Benedict, Philadelphia Inquirer
“Remarkable. . . . Salter celebrates the silver-and-golden bitterness of life. Light Years . . . becomes an unexpectedly moving ode to beautiful lives frayed by time.”
—James Wolcott, Esquire
“[A] twentieth-century masterpiece. At once iridescent, lyrical, mystical and magnetic.”
Bloomsbury Review
“An absolutely beautiful, monstrous, important book.”
—Joy Williams

About the Author

James Salter was born in 1925 and grew up in New York City on Manhattan's Upper East Side. He graduated from West Point in 1945 and began a twelve-year stint in the Air Force, much of it as a fighter pilot. After flying combat in Korea, he was assigned to air squadrons in Europe and there began writing. He resigned his commission after the publication of his first novel in 1956. A second novel appeared in 1961, and his reputation was established with A Sport and a Pastime. In 1989 his collection of short stories, Dusk and Other Stories, won the PEN/Faulkner Award. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
4.4 out of 5 stars
Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars If you want to know what "luminous" means.... Aug. 12 2003
The main characters are named Viri and Nedra, and Lord knows that signals "pretentious." Ignore all that. No one writes about what happens between men and women better than Salter; you can see your own relationships in the 308 pages it takes to track the glory and fall of this marriage between an architect and his thin, troubled wife. And the sense of place! Here he is on the lure the Hamptons held for Nedra: "She was a creature of blue, flawless days, the sun of their noons hot as the African coast, the chill of the nights immense and clear." I started the book in that place on a morning so grey the sky and ocean merged; I read through the rain; I finished at night. A day well spent.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Is the reality ever as good as the fantasy? Aug. 8 2002
By *Q*
I'd give this book 4 1/2 stars if I could!! This book knocked my socks off. This is not unusual material, every other book is about fading relationships. Salter describes the every day life of the married couple, Nedra and Viri whom are acting out a marriage rather than being in it. Their affections wandering and alienated. The content is sad but so eloquently displayed before you that you sometimes forget the seriousness of the plot. Oh, and then those beautiful dancing words.... taking you completly by surprise. Salter paints scenic backgrounds where daily life exists, such as in Chapter 2 it begins;
In the morning the light came is silence. The house slept. The air overhead, glittering, it's richness, it's density, bathe in the air like a stream.
The character's were annoying because they had a wonderful life but they just couldn't see it, they seemed immature and non committal. Both of them cheated not only on each other but on themselves.
The question is, is the reality ever as good as the fantasy?
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5.0 out of 5 stars Courage Feb. 12 2001
The courage to live life as it changes, as the faults that went unseen in the initial rush of novelty emerge, to adapt, continue and be happy, content, this I believe is the heart of this work. The small imperfections that erode to fatal flaws as the years pass, the union of marriage that grows old, and regret and a desire for something new becomes an obsession. And if the freedom is regained can it ever be as it was anticipated. How can anything desired for years, embellished and romanticized for decades ever deliver contentment?
The marriage of Nedra and Viri act more like a parenthetical that contains the entire novel and its events, than they serve as the focal point. The dozens of friends on almost as many levels of intimacy all revolve around the married couple, the former couple, or the individuals they believe they become for a second time. Is contentment the equivalent of stagnation; is it predestined for most, or voluntary for the few?
Mr. Salter continues in, "Light Years", what he has done in all 3 of the novels I have read thus far. The people he creates transcend whatever story he presents them in. The personalities he creates are wonderful not because they entertain with their uniqueness or their contrived eccentricities, but because of how normal they are, or perhaps familiar. This is not to suggest they are cliché, they are everything but that, they are people you know, people you may meet, or a character that you find a part of you is within.
One of the beauties of what this man is capable of with his writing is reaching very deeply into the thoughts and fears that inhabit almost all of us. He does not presume, he does not judge or lecture, he just lets you look through your minds eye, and decide for yourself.
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By A Customer
This novel, set in the period between the mid 1950s and mid 1970s in New York, is the story of the marriage of well-off Viri and Nedra. The chapters are episodic, each one painting a picture of the marriage. Much of the plot (what there is of plot that is)seems to takes place at small intimate dinner parties. The prose is quite beautiful - thick and textured, lyrical and evocative. But it only keeps us distanced from these already remote characters. I felt like I was observing Viri and Nedra under water, or through a thick layer of fog. Why are Viri and Nedra having their respective affairs? Why is the marriage crumbling, while they remain polite and affable with each other? The author never answers these questions other than to suggest it is collapsing under the weight of their own ennui and vacuity.The tumultuous political and historical events of the Sixties never seem to touch the characters in the book. I must admit that the first half of the book left me cold. Viri and Nedra seem self-indulgent people, not worthy of the readers attention. What kept me with the story was the exquisite prose style that Salter has crafted. But more and more I was drawn into and touched by their very sad story even as I still felt distanced from them. Just to immerse oneself in Salter's beautiful writing style made this a worthwhile reading experience.
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By A Customer
"...photographs, noons. I adore you." Viri makes up these lines to his lover, Kaya. How do I express this-- what I hold in me of this book? I've read it twice, the first time, I was fifteen and sitting in the back of my parents' car and read it whole in four hours in the heat and dry luster of Northern California summertime. I memorized that line, the above one, and when I fell slowly and inexorably into passionate crazy love with *this other author* I spent long days at the beach, scrawling Salter's lines in the sand with a thin piece of driftwood. Salter captures the dense erotic luster of relationships like no one else. I fell in love with this book. It taught me so many things. Ah, I've forgotten about the second time I read it. Yes, that was something. I read it because I knew I had missed the message the first time around. Thoroughly passion-crazed in my own life, I needed to feel the supple prose slip me into dream-world again. What a lovely book. Ai, and read Salter's *Dusk*, as well.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars a favorite
This is one of my favorite novels--and one I recommend over and over to friends. Salter's prose is beautiful, limpid, and elegant, and his portrait of life in New York is... Read more
Published on May 29 2004 by Meghan E. O'Rourke
5.0 out of 5 stars elegiac portrait of a marriage and its decay
Like Salter's other books and stories, Light Years is elegiac and haunting. Captures a feeling for a time in post-WWII America when hopes were high, all things seemed possible. Read more
Published on July 13 2001 by Wayne Ralph
5.0 out of 5 stars perfect prose
Simply put, this is the the most lyrical and stylistically perfect American novel since _The Great Gatsby_. Read it and re-read it, recommend it to friends. Read more
Published on Sept. 13 2000
2.0 out of 5 stars ghost characters
Salter's poetic prose at times reads too precious. Characters come and go, are left behind- vanish, in a picaresque of loss and despair. Read more
Published on March 18 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars Poetry in prose
Not a traditionally told story, the plot is almost entirely incidental. What we are left with is the language, lyrical and beautiful, that can veer from a description of a family... Read more
Published on Aug. 20 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars Profoundly moving
I read this book while vacationing in Italy and attempting to cope with my divorce, a sudden and unexpected loss in my life. This book will knock you out. You'll never forget it.
Published on July 10 1999 by michael r. harty
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful novel
A wonderfully-written, poignant portrait of a marriage. The end filled me with sadness and the chapters were consistently memorable. Read more
Published on June 28 1999
4.0 out of 5 stars A lightly woven filigree of regret.
Much less of a story than a lingering retrospective gaze at the subtle astonishments that have come to populate a life, giving it the plenitude towards which it has helplessly... Read more
Published on April 3 1999
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