cover image Cassada


James Salter. Counterpoint LLC, $25 (256pp) ISBN 978-1-887178-89-1

Salter is one of the great writers about flying, and this short novel was revised, at the suggestion of Counterpoint editor Jack Shoemaker, from a book originally called The Arm of Flesh when it was first published nearly 40 years ago. (Salter's first novel, The Hunters, was also revised for republication three years ago.) It is set in Germany a few years after the war, when the U.S. Air Force was still maintaining airfields and flying practice sorties, and when bad weather, particularly heavy cloud and fog, could still cause problems at smaller landing fields. Cassada is a young lieutenant, sent to join the unit at the center of the story, who is determined to be a star in the target gunnery contests in which the pilots indulge, and who in the end is part of a disaster when he and a colleague fly too far and run out of fuel in heavy rain before they can land. Salter's subtle, understated prose has been justly praised, even if at times it hovers perilously close to Hemingway parody, and the best scenes here portray the tensions of the men on the ground as they wait for planes to land safely. Salter's feeling for weather and for the dark mysteries of solitary flight are exemplary, and it is only in the rather mundane scenes of family life on base and the barely hidden rivalries and jealousies that the book is less than compelling. It is certainly worth reading for the frequent pleasures of Salter's writing and for the originality of the setting, but it in no way compares with his brilliant A Sport and a Pastime and Light Years. (Jan.)