This is a heart-breaking novel about love, marriage and the danger ignoring the slow cracks that seep into relationships. This novel is chocked full of beautiful lines, so I will just leave you with a couple of my favorites:
- What confidence, what success there is in a man’s face at thirty.
- Her laugh was gorgeous, it was like applause.
- “The only thing I’m afraid of are the words ‘ordinary life,’ ” Nedra said.
- “You’re so American. You believe everything is possible, everything will come. I know differently.
- “Nice. Didn’t that once belong to Italy?” “Everything did once,” she said.
- It happens in an instant. It is all one long day, one endless afternoon, friends leave, we stand on the shore. Yes, he thought, I am ready, I have always been ready, I am ready at last.
Light Years (Vintage International) by James Salter
You have 68 highlighted passages
Nedra was working in the kitchen, her rings set aside. She was tall, preoccupied; her neck was bare. When she paused to read a recipe, her head bent, she was stunning in her concentration, her air of obedience. She wore her wrist watch, her best shoes. Beneath the apron, she was dressed for the evening. People were coming for dinner. She had trimmed the stems of flowers spread on the wood of the counter and begun to arrange them. Before her were scissors, paper-thin boxes of cheese, French knives. On her shoulders there was perfume. I am going to describe her life from the inside outward, from its core, the house as well, rooms in which life was gathered, rooms in the morning sunlight, the floors spread with Oriental rugs that had been her mother-in-law’s, apricot, rouge and tan, rugs which though worn seemed to drink the sun, to collect its warmth; books, potpourris, cushions in colors of Matisse, objects glistening like evidence, many of which might, had they been possessed by ancient peoples, have been placed in tombs for another life: clear crystal dice, pieces of staghorn, amber beads, boxes, sculptures, wooden balls, magazines in which were photographs of women to whom she compared herself. Who cleans this large house, who scrubs the floors? She does everything, this woman, she does nothing. She is dressed in her oat-colored sweater, slim as a pike, her long hair fastened, the fire crackling. Her real concern is the heart of existence: meals, bed linen, clothing. The rest means nothing; it is managed somehow. She has a wide mouth, the mouth of an actress, thrilling, bright. Dark smudges in her armpits, mint on her breath. Her nature is extravagant. She buys on impulse, she visits Bendel’s as she would a friend’s, gathering up five or six dresses and entering a booth, not bothering to draw the curtain fully, a glimpse of her undressing, lean arms, lean trunk, bikini underpants. Yes, she scrubs floors, collects dirty clothes. She is twenty-eight. Her dreams still cling to her, adorn her; she is confident, composed, she is
related to long-necked creatures, ruminants, abandoned saints. She is careful, hard to approach. Her life is concealed. It is through the smoke and conversation of many dinners that one sees her: country dinners, dinners at the Russian Tea Room, the Café Chauveron with Viri’s clients, the St. Regis, the Minotaur.
Read more at location 168
What confidence, what success there is in a man’s face at thirty.
Read more at location 182
She had a rich, naked laugh.
Read more at location 224
Their life is special, devout, they prefer to spend time with their children, they have only a few friends.
Read more at location 227
He tried to imagine scenes that went on in this house, but was hindered by her laughter. It was a disclaimer, a garment she could leave behind, like empty stockings, like a bather’s robe on the beach.
Read more at location 257
“She’s a very generous woman, that’s all.” “Generous?” “I’m using it in the sense of abundant, rich.” “She’s the most selfish woman on earth.
Read more at location 267
A Jew without money is like a dog without teeth.
Read more at location 273
“A bad shirt is like the story of a pretty girl who is single and one day she finds herself pregnant. It’s not the end of life, but it’s serious.
Read more at location 314
she was motionless, like an old woman who has lived too long.
Read more at location 398
“We saw that little girl with one leg.” “Monica.” “Yes.” “That’s so sad.” “I can’t bear to look at her. It takes away my courage.
Read more at location 412
LIFE IS WEATHER. LIFE IS MEALS. Lunches on a blue checked cloth on which salt has spilled. The smell of tobacco. Brie, yellow apples, wood-handled knives.
Read more at location 439
She made her way slowly across the room, her face less animated than other women’s faces. She passed behind people, around them, nodded, smiled. She was that woman the first glimpse of whom changes everything.
Read more at location 488
“This is Faye Massey.” The bad complexion of a girl of good family.
Read more at location 524
In the morning I will have forgotten it, he thought; in the morning everything is different, things are real.
Read more at location 577
But knowledge does not protect one. Life is contemptuous of knowledge; it forces it to sit in the anterooms, to wait outside. Passion, energy, lies: these are what life admires. Still, anything can be endured if all humanity is watching. The martyrs prove it. We live in the attention of others. We turn to it as flowers to the sun.
Read more at location 611
“It wasn’t only what she said. She ate, that was the thing I liked about her, she ate as much as I did. We were like two peasants striking a bargain. Bread, fish, wine, everything. I began looking at her as something that was going to be served next.Read more at location 629
She is a woman whose cool remark forms the mood of a dinner; the man seated next to her smiles. She knows what she is doing, that is the core of it; still, how could she know? Her acts are unrepeated. She does not perform. Her face is a face that electrifies—that sudden, exploding smile—and yet, she somehow gives nothing.
Read more at location 677
One wants to enter the aura surrounding her, to be accepted, to see her smile, to have her exercise that deep, imputed tendency to love. Soon after they were married, perhaps an hour after, even Viri longed for this. His possession of her became sanctified; at the same time something in her changed. She became his closest relative. She committed herself to his interests and embarked on her own. The desperate, unbearable affection vanished, and in its place was a young woman of twenty condemned to live with him. He could not define it. She had escaped. Perhaps it was more; the mistake she knew she would have to make was made at last. Her face radiated knowledge. A colorless vein like a scar ran vertically down the center of her forehead. She had accepted the limitations of her life. It was this anguish, this contentment which created her grace.
Read more at location 691
Summer is the noontime of devoted families. It is the hour of silence when the only sound is sea birds. The shutters are closed, the voices quiet. Occasionally the ring of a fork.
Read more at location 695
Viri watches, sitting on the sand. She waves at him, her shouts carried off by the wind. He understands suddenly what love of a child is. It overwhelms him like the line from a song.
Read more at location 725
And he reads to them, as he does every night, as if watering them, as if turning the earth at their feet. There are stories he has never heard of, and others he has known as a child, these stepping stones that are there for everyone. What is the real meaning of these stories, he wonders, of creatures that no longer exist even in the imagination: princes, woodcutters, honest fishermen who live in hovels. He wants his children to have an old life and a new life, a life that is indivisible from all lives past, that grows from them, exceeds them, and another that is original, pure, free, that is beyond the prejudice which protects us, the habit which gives us shape. He wants them to know both degradation and sainthood, the one without humiliation, the other without ignorance. He is preparing them for this voyage. It is as if there is only a single hour, and in that hour all the provender must be gathered, all the advice offered. He longs for the one line to give them that they will always remember, that will embrace everything, that will point the way, but he cannot find the line, he cannot recognize it. It is more precious, he knows, than anything else they might own, but he does not have it. Instead, in his even, sensuous voice he laves them in the petty myths of Europe, of snowy Russia, the East. The best education comes from knowing only one book, he tells Nedra. Purity comes from that, and proportion, and the comfort of always having an example close at hand. “Which book?” she says. “There are a number of them.” “Viri,” she says, “it’s a charming idea.
Read more at location 765
Nedra took her place beside him. He lay there silent; he could not close his eyes. Her presence was the final pledge of sanctity and order, like those great commanders who were the last to sleep.
Read more at location 907
His wife—people found her strange—was in the last years of her youth. She was like a beautiful dinner left out overnight.
Read more at location 922
have to think about that,” he said. “Never getting what you want, that could be unhappiness, but as long as there’s a chance of getting it
Read more at location 1170
“When you do it,” she said, “I sometimes have the feeling I’m going so far I won’t be able to come back. I feel as if I
Read more at location 1232
He was as empty as one who has committed a crime of passion. He was his own corpse. One could see in him both the murderer and the half-nude woman crumpled on the floor.
Read more at location 1283
She was terrific, Eve; that was what he said. She was generous in every way. She gave books, dresses, friends, she graced rooms with her hard, dissolute body, her wanton mouth. The kind of woman seen on the arm of a boxing champion, the kind who is not married, who appears one morning with blackened eyes.
Read more at location 1513
She received a letter from her father written on small sheets of lined paper. It thanked her for the three days he had spent there. He had caught a cold on the way home. He had made good time, though, even better than on the trip up. She was a good poker player; she must have inherited it. There are no real friends, he warned.
Read more at location 1697
“You have a wonderful sense of humor.” “Unfortunately,” he said. “Humor comes largely from not caring.” “Oh, I don’t think so.” “Detachment is what brings forth humor. It’s a paradox. We’re the only creatures
Read more at location 1807
that laugh, they say, and the more we laugh, the less we care.
Read more at location 1810
“You’re a lucky fellow,” Arnaud was saying. From the house they seemed immobile, as if posed. The sheets of foliage drifted above them. The corner of the tablecloth blew gently back. “You’ve reached shore.” Viri did not reply. The vast, mild sway of summer moved the canopy of leaves, sifted through them, made them shimmer. “You’re responding to a greater reality than other men, Viri. I mean, I could give examples, but it’s manifest. This is a kind of heaven.” “Yes, well, it isn’t all me,” Viri said. “It’s largely you.” “No, you brought the cigars.” He paused. “The fact is, it’s not what it appears. I’m too easy-going.” “What do you mean?” “Women should be kept in cages. Otherwise …” He didn’t finish. Finally he said, “Otherwise, I don’t know.
Read more at location 1825
My eye and ear criticize every move and every intonation. I listen to the “commas” of the play as if they were drops falling from a fountain.
Read more at location 1849
Her laugh was gorgeous, it was like applause.
Read more at location 1940
as he poured the wine how foolish his statement had been, how wistful. Reinhart was right: fame was not only part of greatness, it was more. It was the evidence, the only proof. All the rest was nothing, in vain. He who is famous cannot fail; he has already succeeded.
Read more at location 1974
He was asleep, she could tell without looking. He slept like a child, soundlessly, deep. His thinning hair was disheveled, his hand lay extended and soft. If they had been another couple she would have been attracted to them, she would have loved them, even—they were so miserable.
Read more at location 2001
Her nature showed itself in the generosity of her table.
Read more at location 2039
Goodbye Altoona, roofs, churches, trees. The watershed where they had gone on many summer afternoons, the cool, ferny ground, the abandoned ovens filled with butterflies and leaves. Broad Avenue with its houses, the neighborhoods of the unknown. In every dark parlor, it seemed, was a woman with swollen legs, or an old man, used, empty, stained. A town almost European in appearance, steep and spacious, shining in the sun of late afternoon. Like all such junctions it was a penal colony, pinned in the provinces by its rails.
Read more at location 2366
There is warmth in families but not often companionship. She loved talking to Franca, and about her as well. She felt that this was the woman that she herself had become, in the sense that the present represents the past. She wanted to discover life through her, to savor it for the second time.
Read more at location 2551
The book was in her lap; she had read no further. The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are
Read more at location 2561
slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers.
Read more at location 2563
“You always insist on my being different,” Franca burst out. “I always wear different clothes, I can’t go here or I can’t go there. I don’t want any more of that. I want to be like everyone else!” The tears were streaming down her face. “I don’t want to be like you.” In one stroke she had established her own world.
Read more at location 2576
“The only thing I’m afraid of are the words ‘ordinary life,’ ” Nedra said.
Read more at location 2762
Viri arrived and sat down. He was urbane; in that room, at that hour, he seemed the age one longs to be, the age of accomplishments, of acceptance, the age we never achieve. He saw before him his wife and a young couple. Franca was surely a woman, he knew it suddenly. He had somehow missed the moment it had happened, but the fact was clear to him. Her real face had emerged from the young, sympathetic face it had been and in an hour become more passionate, mortal. It was a face he was in awe of. He heard her voice saying, “Yeah, yeah,” eagerly in response to Mark, the years of her girlhood vanished before his eyes. She would take off her clothes, live in Mexico, find life.
Read more at location 2798
Beneath their brilliance women have a power as stars have gravity.
Read more at location 2907
“You’re so American. You believe everything is possible, everything will come. I know differently.
Read more at location 2914
They were talking about the day ahead as if they had only happiness in common.
Read more at location 2979
DANNY FELL BY CHANCE, AS A BIRD to a cat. It was winter. She was with a friend. They met Juan Prisant on the street near the Filmore. He wore a rough white sweater, nothing more. It was cold. The teeth in his bearded mouth were perfect; they were like the soft hands that betray fleeing aristocrats. He was twenty-three. From the first instant she was ready to forget her studies, her dog, her home. He paid no attention to her in that tribute which the stricken have learned to expect. She was too young, she knew, too middle-class; she was not interesting enough for him. She was wearing a coat she hated. She stared at the sidewalk and from time to time dared a glance to reaffirm a face that dazed her with its power. No matter what she did, she could not seem to remember it, she could not stare at it long, like the sun. He radiated an energy which terrified her and drove all other thoughts from her mind.
Read more at location 2998
Love must wait; it must break one’s bones.
Read more at location 3009
THEY WERE DIVORCED IN THE fall. I wish it could have been otherwise.
Read more at location 3210
Viri was left in the house. Every object, even those which had been hers, which he never touched, seemed to share his loss. He was suddenly parted from his life. That presence, loving or not, which fills the emptiness of rooms, mildens them, makes them light—that presence was gone. The simple greed that makes one cling to a woman left him suddenly desperate, stunned. A fatal space had opened, like that between a liner and the dock which is suddenly too wide to leap; everything is still present, visible, but it cannot be regained.
Read more at location 3235
There were beads of saliva in the corners of his mouth. His movements were loose, his hands waved freely. Solid, generous, practical, he was all hull; he had no keel. The rudder was small, the compass drifting.
Read more at location 3327
He was clever, he was helpless. At that time they were publishing his stories in the Transatlantic Review. He was the son of a woman who worked as a psychologist and who had been divorced since he was three. She had no illusions about her son: the thing he was most afraid of was succeeding, but one would have to know him very well to understand that. The impression he gave was of weakness, a voluntary weakness like certain vague illnesses. But after a time these illnesses cry out to be legitimatized, they insist on being treated as a natural condition, they become one with their host. He knew everything; his knowledge was vast. He was like the irreverent student who passes any examination. His eyes were dark, the muddy brown of a Negro. His cuffs were soiled. Many of his sentences began with a proper noun.
Read more at location 3392
breakfast of chocolate and oranges. Reading, falling again into sleep. He said very little. They were deep in contentment; it was full, beyond words. It was like a day of rain.
Read more at location 3764
“With your life. You must become free.” She did not explain it; she could not. It was not a matter of living alone, though in her own case this had been necessary. The freedom she meant was self-conquest. It was not a natural state. It was meant only for those who would risk everything for it, who were aware that without it life is only appetites until the teeth are gone.
Read more at location 4153
When it came to stories, though, he was like a man who knew railroad schedules, he was exact, assured. He would begin in wonderful, faintly witty sentences. His stories were light but not frivolous; they had a strange clarity, they were like a part of the ocean where one could see the bottom.
Read more at location 4167
Beneath the gleaming black hair burning in the sun, behind the intense eyes, for a moment Nedra saw something which touched her deeply—that rare thing, the idea of a friend one makes when the heart has already begun to close.
Read more at location 4203
Time had spoiled for Viri. It reeked in his pockets. He had projects, somewhat vague, appointments, but nothing to do. His eye would not fix on things, it slipped off them like a dying insect. He was staggering, swaying between those times when he had no strength at all, no reason, no urge to struggle, when he felt, ah, if only he could run to death like a fanatic, a believer, delirious, dazed, on those quickened feet that run to love—and then, in the quiet of the early afternoon, seated somewhere, opening the newspaper, he was completely different.
Read more at location 4258
“Nice. Didn’t that once belong to Italy?” “Everything did once,” she said.
Read more at location 4303
A warmth flooded through him, a dizziness as if he had fought an enemy. With a word, a glance she embraced him; she had opened the dull sky, the light poured down. It is always an accident that saves us. It is someone we have never seen.
Read more at location 4314
habits, I know your thoughts. You have married me for my sake, but not for your own—not yet. That will come. Oh, yes. It will come because I will wait. I am a cornucopia, I am overflowing. I am not sweet—no, not in the way one tastes at first. But sweet things are forgotten quickly, sweet things are weak. I have the patience to wait, yes, as long as necessary. I will wait a month, a year, five years, I will sit like a widow, playing a kind of napoleone, because slowly, slowly I will enslave you. I will do it when the moment comes, when I know it is time, that I can succeed. Until then I will sit at your table, I will lie beside you like a concubine—yes, I will give myself to you in whatever way you like, I will raid your fantasies, I will pillage them and keep the pieces to hypnotize you with. I will say, ‘Those things you are dreaming of, I will make them real.’ I will be your Arab girl, I will serve you naked, yes, I will hold food between my teeth for you, I will be your daughter, I will be your whore. You cannot believe what I know—no, never—what I have imagined. Amore, the secret is to have the courage to live. If you have that, everything will sooner or later change.
Read more at location 4556
“Assunta, don’t cry.” How touching old people are, she thought. How honest they are, how emptied of deception and pride.
Read more at location 4664
“It’s just that it’s hard to believe in greatness,” she said. “Especially in friends.
Read more at location 4700
Of them all, it was the true love. Of them all, it was the best. That other, that sumptuous love which made one drunk, which one longed for, envied, believed in, that was not life. It was what life was seeking; it was a suspension of life. But to be close to a child, for whom one spent everything, whose life was protected and nourished by one’s own, to have that child beside one, at peace, was the real, the deepest, the only joy.
Read more at location 4711
Her lean fingers and long hands were like a woman’s on a foreclosed farm.
Read more at location 4768
It happens in an instant. It is all one long day, one endless afternoon, friends leave, we stand on the shore. Yes, he thought, I am ready, I have always been ready, I am ready at last.
Read more at location 4824