All That Is is James Salter's first published novel in 30 years, making it the first in my lifetime. Yet, within the first chapter of the book, I found myself in complete disbelief and frustration over the fact that I had let his earlier work slip by.
Salter traces the life of Philip Bowman, a naval officer returning from World War II who lands a position as an editor with a small publishing company. Bowman finds comfort in the women around him, though love is more difficult to secure than success. Through a series of relationships, and their intricate intersections, All That Is explores the full journey of a life.
It's clear from the start that this is a novel written by someone with a wealth of life experience to draw from. At age 88, Salter has a keen sense of perspective, noting everything from the betrayal of the changing seasons to the common mistakes we make when under the spell of another. It's almost as if he has seen the world from every possible pair of eyes and has been told every story; the voice of wisdom in his writing is unlike anything else. He combines his words into gorgeous sentences that feel so effortless and seem to jump from every page.
"He loved her for not only what she was but what she might be, the idea that she might be otherwise did not occur to him or did not matter. Why would it occur? When you love you see a future according to your dreams."
The evolution of Bowman's character throughout the novel is fascinating, but incredibly real; from unsure veteran to wandering divorcée to the flawed man he becomes. Much like those we make in real life, his decisions are sometimes shockingly wrong, but serve to make him feel more human -- if not redeemable.
While some may leave All That Is looking for a more pulsing plot, any reader who appreciates the beauty of written language will easily find love in the first few pages. I've already begun digging up Salter's backlist, I definitely have a new favorite.