Jan 22, 2012

Jack's Pastime Is a Fine Cassoulet

Acknowledgments
Jack's hospitality was tested last Tuesday: he had to come up with a meal that would reflect the French sensibility of Salter's magnum opus, he had to do it on short notice, and he had to keep his doors open late enough to accommodate a couple of stragglers (I had an excuse; I'm not sure about Peter).  By all accounts, he set an outstanding table.  With a delicious cassoulet, flavored by bottles of Bordeaux and followed by his own chocolate mousse and a cheese and fruit platter, Jack proved that Garth isn't the only one capable of Marin-style haute cuisine.  Most of the men were gone by the time I showed up, and it was just as well. From the individual ratings given to this book, I was dismayed to find myself yet again the outlier.  The remaining cognac and brie were little consolation. 

The Book
James Salter's third novel, A Sport and a Pastime, catapulted him to prominence in the 1960's and established him as possibly the best living American novelist that no one reads anymore.  What a shame, as this short novel about an American college dropout's (ahem, a Yale dropout, naturally) affair with a poor young French woman is beautifully evocative of a straitened post-war, post-colonial France.  It also delivers its story via a painfully conflicted narrator whose self-conscious re-telling forces the reader to think critically about the relationship he describes between Phllip Dean and Anne-Marie Costallat.

Too bad I showed up after everyone had shared their thoughts about this fine, if somewhat precious novella.  Jack gave me his notes and, from what I can deduce, no one else but John found the narrator as intriguing as I did.  Instead, I gather there were references to the Mitchell Brothers theater in San Francisco (thank you for that special memory, Larry), an appreciation for Salter's frank sensuality (Dan can't wait to read more Salter titles), and a real conflict between those who enjoyed Salter's writing (Terry and Dean) and those who didn't (Tom, who labored through the first 50 pages, and George, who gave it a miserly 3!).  In the faint praise department, Stan decried the book as brief but banal, and not nearly as erotic as Dear Abby.  (Stan, since your wife shares her first name with the late Abigail Van Buren, what are we to make of your comparison?)

The end result was an almost equal number of 6's, 7's, and 8's, which--when combined with George's 3--pushed Salter a little below midpack at 6.6.

Next Up
Paul proposed four survival-themed titles for next month's meeting (our ski trip has moved to guarded status given the pessimistic snow forecasts).  His theme is apropos, as the meeting marks our 50th dinner together--quite an accomplishment for a group as diverse as ours.  As for our book selection, Man Eaters of Kumaon and Unbroken fell off in the first round of voting, leaving a duel between Ghosts of Everest and Endurance.  In the final round, the group chose Hemmleb's acclaimed account of the 1999 expedition that discovered the corpse of legendary mountaineer, George Mallory, whose disappearance whle summiting Everest in 1924 became the stuff of legend. 

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