The Paris Review is giving James Salter their Hadada Prize this year, and to honor him they published a series of essays on Salter’s work by Jhumpa Lahiri, Geoff Dyer, Porochista Khakpour, Ian Crouch and others. Mine, “Sex and Salter”, is a meditation on reading Salter in order to learn how to write about sex, and is up now.
From my essay:
Reading Salter’s sentences, I saw what I knew of sex, that sex is a moment in which you are known and knowable. Whatever it is you desire appears from behind the veil of shame or fantasy or nostalgia, or sheer impossibility, and in its presence, you are revealed to yourself. Porn obscures this; porn is about the fantasy of the viewer, not the mixed fantasies, realities, and disappointments of the actors in the room. Truth might get you off, but porn doesn’t deal in maybes, was never interested in unreliable, unpredictable truth-telling. When my teacher told me to read James Salter, what she meant was that this kind of sex writing is about you, the reader, in a way a fantasy isn’t. It describes sex so that it tells you something about the story and the characters and yourself, all at once.