Summary and book reviews of All That Is by James Salter

All That Is

By James Salter

All That Is
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    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Hardcover: Apr 2013,
    304 pages.
    Paperback: Jan 2014,
    304 pages.

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Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

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Book Summary

From his experiences as a naval officer in battles off Okinawa during World War II, Philip Bowman returns to America and finds a position as a book editor. It was a time when publishing was still a private affair - a scattered family of small houses here and in Europe - a time of gatherings in fabled apartments, parties into the night. It is a world in which to immerse himself, a world of intimate connections and surprising triumphs. But the deal that Philip cannot seem to close is love: one marriage goes bad; another fails to happen; and, finally, he meets a woman who enthralls, then betrays him, setting him on a course he could never have imagined for himself.

Written with Salter's signature economy of prose, All That Is fiercely, fluidly explores a life unfolding in a world on the brink of change: a dazzling, sometimes devastating labyrinth of love and ambition, of the small shocks and grand pleasures of being alive.

Chapter 1
Break of Day

All night in darkness the water sped past.
 
In tier on tier of iron bunks below deck, silent, six deep, lay hundreds of men, many face-up with their eyes still open though it was near morning. The lights were dimmed, the engines throbbing endlessly, the ventilators pulling in damp air, fifteen hundred men with their packs and weapons heavy enough to take them straight to the bottom, like an anvil dropped in the sea, part of a vast army sailing towards Okinawa, the great island that was just to the south of Japan. In truth, Okinawa was Japan, part of the homeland, strange and unknown. The war that had been going on for three and a half years was in its final act. In half an hour the first groups of men would file in for breakfast, standing as they ate, shoulder to shoulder, solemn, unspeaking. The ship was moving smoothly with faint sound. The steel of the hull creaked.
 
The war in the Pacific was not like the rest of it. The ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. All That Is is preceded by an epigraph: "There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real." In what ways does this enigmatic statement illuminate the story that follows? Why would it be that only things preserved in writing are "real"?
  2. James Salter has been called "a writer's writer" and praised for the artistry of his sentences. What are the most appealing qualities of Salter's prose style? In what ways does his writing differ from that of most contemporary novelists?
  3. The novel is told primarily from Bowman's point of view, but the narrative shifts perspectives, and the narrator reveals things that Bowman can't know about. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse

Despite its many merits though, the pillar on which this novel rests, Philip Bowman, remains a frustratingly opaque character. Protagonists don’t necessarily have to be good or bad for us to engage with them but they have to give us some reason to care. Bowman doesn’t. That we can still engage with the story regardless speaks volumes about Salter’s writing.   (Reviewed by Poornima Apte).

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Media Reviews
Booklist

The many sex scenes are doleful; the pegs to world events wobbly. Yet resonant passages bloom...

Kirkus Reviews

There are incidental pleasures here but, overall, a disappointing return.

Publishers Weekly

Achingly real...Salter punctuates his elegant prose with sharp, erotic punches.

Author Blurb Julian Barnes
A consistently elegant and enjoyable novel, full of verve and wisdom.

Author Blurb John Banville
Enthralling...A vividly imagined and beautifully written evocation of a postwar world.

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Small-Town Wonders

The view from the Firehouse on Sparkill creekIn All That Is, just after World War II, one of Bowman's good friends is so captivated by the village of Piermont, New York that he buys a house close to the water and watches the Hudson river flow by from his home. The town, in New York's Rockland County, is picturesquely framed by the Hudson river on one side and the Tallman Mountain State Park on the other.

These days Piermont, which is just a few miles south of the Tappan Zee bridge (one of the main connectors between New York City and New Jersey), is a fashionable village attracting yuppie visitors and artists, but not so long ago it was quite a depressed town. It had a manufacturing base and was home to the Continental Can Company in the 50s and a paper company, which shuttered ...

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