I’ve probably taken the opportunity to write here on this very blog that I don’t want to hear readings when I listen to a podcast. I don’t know why I said that. I’ve listened to audiobooks and enjoyed it on occasion. So I don’t know why I didn’t want readings. One thing is that I find it hard to listen to literary fiction in the car. My audiobook tastes tended more toward John Sandford (who I met once and he made fun of my name) or biographies. With literary fiction, if you miss one sentence while you are working the turn signal you can miss the whole story.
Anyway, I was out and about this week and was listening to the Paris Review podcast. And they promised a reading of Bangkok by James Salter.
This was of interest to me. During my Valentine’s Day post I wrote about James Salter and A Sport and a Pastime, a filthy sexy literary book. So this had potential.
Add to it that Dick Cavett was reading the story–a professional reader. I was talking about this to Barb and she noted that readings can be good when they are done by readers, but they suck when done by authors.
So, I listened. It was so good. Cavett–along with some very judiciously used sound effects and background music–gave the whole thing a noir feel. Honestly, both of the characters felt like they had stepped off an Edward Hopper painting.
The story is so good. Salter was just the best. His has the power of juxtaposition, to put two sentences next to each other in a way that makes 25 words turn into a million, an infinite set of feelings and understanding.
She had been coming out of a restaurant one time, down some steps long after lunch in a silk dress that clung around the hips and the wind pulled against her legs. The afternoons, he thought for a moment.
And how’s this for a “show don’t tell” plot advancement with a featherweight touch.
He was leaning back in the chair. For the first time she had the impression he might have been drinking a little more than usual these days.
You can’t do much better than that. Just to let you know, the filthy quotient doesn’t get short-changed here either. (This is dialogue, FYI, without punctuation).
We’re going to stay in Bangkok for a couple of months, perhaps come back through Europe, Carol said. Molly has a lot of style. She was a dancer. What was Pam, wasn’t she a teacher or something? Well, you love Pam, you’d love Molly.
You don’t know her, but you would. She paused. Why don’t you come with us? she said.
Hollis smiled slightly.
Shareable, is she? he said.
You wouldn’t have to share.
It was meant to torment him, he knew.
Eeeesh. Anyway, I’d recommend Salter and this story. It is in the Paris Review archive, free to subscribers (yes, the whole thing). It may be available elsewhere in a collection. It is worth reading. Or you could download the podcast and listen to Dick Cavett read it. That’s free.