Quotations from “All That Is” Selected by Ron Powers

In a 2013 interview after the publication of James Salter’s final novel, “All That Is,” Salter said to the interviewer, “You write what you desire.” He also said that he “scrupulously” tried to eliminate aphorisms from his writing of this novel. Despite his intention, a few seeped through. Those and a number of other memorable passages from the book I’ve assembled here.


There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real.

Day was rising, a pale Pacific dawn that had no real horizon with the tops of the early clouds gathering light. The sea was empty. Slowly the sun appeared, flooding across the water and turning it white. (5)

Making little word and picture books from folded paper that was sewn together, writing out his first words with him, the many nights that now seemed a single night, putting him to bed and hearing him say, pleading, “Leave the door open.” All of the days, all of it…They were always close, mother and son, without end. (24-25)

There was a time, usually in August, when summer struck the trees with dazzling power and they were rich with leaves but then became, suddenly one day, strangely still, as if in expectation and at that moment aware. They knew. Everything knew, the beetles, the frogs, the crows solemnly walking across the lawn. The sun was at its zenith and embraced the world, but it was ending, all that one loved at risk. (25)

He could not keep his eyes from her. Her face was as if, somehow, it was not completely finished, with smouldering features, a mouth not eager to smile, a riveting face that God had stamped with the simple answer to life. (32)

When you love you see a future according to your dreams. (43)

It was love, the furnace into which everything is dropped. (47)

Most novels, even the great ones, don’t pretend to be true. You believe them, they even become part of your life, but not as literal truth. (62)

The long driveway led upward with evenly spaced trees on either side. At last the house appeared, a vast facade with many windows, every one of them lit as if the house were a huge toy. (66)

There was the gift of talk, the history of everything, told and retold, until you knew it all, the families and names. They sat on shaded porches in the afternoon or evening and talked in slow, intriguing voices of things that had happened and to whom. (80)

The sun was bathing the side of the house, the cold air of fall seeped beneath the windows. (84)

Great publishers were not always great readers, and good readers seldom made good publishers…. (87)

He liked food, people, talk, but reading was an inexhaustible pleasure. What the joys of music were to others, words on a page were to him. (87)

He woke in darkness to a fierce rattling. It was rain, the drops hammering against the window. He’d been born in a storm, he was always happy in them. (89)

I don’t think you ever really know anybody. (102)

She smiled at him. He could not take his eyes from her, the way her mouth moved when she spoke, the slight, careless gesture of a hand, her scent. She was like another language, nothing like his own. (103)

The sky of Madrid was a vast, pale blue. Unlike other great cities, Madrid had no river, the grand avenues with their trees were its river, the Calle de Alcala, Paseo del Prado. (122)

In life you need friends and a good place to live. (141)

It had been a long day. The summer had come early. Sun struck the trees of the countryside with dazzling power. In towns along the way, girls with tanned limbs strolled idly past stores that looked closed. Housewives drove with kerchiefs on their heads and their men in hard yellow hats stood near signs warning Construction Ahead. The landscape was beautiful but passive. The emptiness of things rose like the sound of a choir making the sky bluer and more vast. (151)

He felt the absence, not necessarily of marriage, but of a tangible center in life around which things could form and find a place. (152)

Age doesn’t arrive slowly, it comes in a rush. One day nothing has changed, a week later, everything has. A week may be too long a time, it can happen overnight. (160)

There was an afternoon when his mother did not recognize him. She asked him who he was. “I’m Philip. Your son.” (164)

The hospital had whispering hallways… (165)

Outside, the day was made up of various silences. The hours had come to a stop. (182)

The ways divide…The ways part. (181)

She had never told him all she knew, nor could he remember all the days of childhood and things they had done together. She had given him his character, a part of it, the rest had formed itself somehow. He thought, with a kind of desperation, of things he would like to talk to her about or talk about once more. (203)

There were the seasons, the trees, the grass that was a little too long sloping down to the water, the sun a mirror on the windows of the houses across from them. Summer mornings, the light of the world pouring in and the silence. It was a barefoot life, the cool of the night on the floorboards, the green trees if you stepped outside, the first faint cries of the birds. (207)

You have to have loyalty to things. If you don’t have loyalty, you’re alone on the earth. (214)

The power of the novel in the nation’s culture had weakened. It had happened gradually. It was something everyone recognized and ignored. All went on exactly as before, that was the beauty of it. The glory had faded but fresh faces kept appearing, wanting to be part of it… (261)

“Have you ever wanted to be a writer?” she said. “No. As an editor you have to do the opposite. You have to open yourself to the writing of others. It’s not the same thing. I can write. Originally I wanted to be a journalist. I can write flap copy but not anything with real luster. To do that you have to be able to shut out the writing of others.” (271)

He wondered then, as he often did, how much of life remained for him. (289)

About powersron

I'm a member of the Tacoma Retired Men's Book Club.
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