For James Salter, sex and love are noble conquests. But as with fighting MiG planes in the Korean War in his novel The Hunters or scaling the French Alps in Solo Faces, the thrill of the chase only temporarily supplants the inevitable disillusionment that follows once you’ve gotten what you thought you wanted.
Mr. Salter, then, portrays marriage as the hopeless attempt to rid oneself of loneliness. The slow and painful disintegration of Viri and Nedra Berland’s marriage in his 1975 novel Light Years is enough to forewarn any soul foolish enough to desire matrimony.
Such is the education of Philip Bowman, the romantic World War II veteran in Mr. Salter’s superb new book All That Is. Bowman’s longing for a cheerful domestic life gets him through the war, but back in civilian life, he grows increasingly disillusioned with each affair. As he learns from Enid Armour, a married woman whom he meets at a vulgar Halloween party in London (dressed as a buccaneer), marriage is nothing more than a tired routine of one spouse preventing the other from being unfaithful.