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Item #: BK1352-9405
SOLO FACES [Novel] James Salter 1988 or 1998 Softcover Near Fine-Fine Multiple Copies Available
By Salter, James
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California/New York, 1988 or 1998. 218 pp. Used softcover. Near Fine to Fine.

One of the most highly acclaimed climbing novels, loosely based on the life of Gary Hemming.  What makes Solo Faces such a good read is, in part, 1) Salter's lean, understated, 'honest' style, 2) his concern for all his characters, and 3) his ability to write about climbing intelligently without overdoing it. As far as I know, no novelist but Salter has pulled #3 off successfully.

The novel is based (more or less) on the life of Gary Hemming (Rand in the book), who made a heroic rescue of two German climbers (Italians in the book) who were stranded on the daunting face of the Dru. Rand is a believable character: humble and shy, but confident and unable (or unwilling) to develop attachments to the various women that shuffle in and out of his life. All in all, this is a very fine novel by one of our most underread writers.

This great book by Salter who has authored many great books may just be his best. The book is about rock climbing. That sport is the most extreme of the extreme sports but also the most solitary and therefore most spiritual and lyrical as it is so often done alone and any mistake is almost certainly a fatal one. The book begins on the top of a church in L.A. where our main character Rand is doing yet another impermanent odd job in an equally impermanent location repairing roofs for a summer, a situation that allows him to retain his most cherished possession, his freedom. And the ultimate expression of that freedom is climbing.
 
Nothing holds Rand for long, no place and no woman, and so very soon in the novel he is off to the Swiss and French Alps, locations of some of the most heralded peaks including the sheer faced obelisks, the Eiger and the Dru. The book is full of climbing lore(including one mountain rescue based in fact) and that great theme of man versus nature as well as the writing style recalls Conrad and Hemingway. Salters sense of adventure as well as his aptitude to tell a story perfectly recalls both authors, but he has his own style and what he does with this adventure tale is completely his own.
 
Salter shows the great romantic appeal of his hero Rand and he also shows the singular nature of such a character and how a life dedicated to legendary feats and life-in-peril daring can leave a man at some remove from others. The minor characters include climbing friends and the various women involved in Rands love affairs. Though each of them a brief episode only the love episodes are poignant as they more than any other part of the book show how unreachably alone romantic Rand really is.
 
Subtle scenes between men and women who say very little to each other but feel very real is something Salter is especially good at. Very very highly recommended to outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of pristine sentences strung gracefully together and which seem to catch the hard glint of the mountain sun itself. Salter is an author who has only written five novels, one story collection, and a memoir, each one is very much worth your while.

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