To mark James Salter’s passing earlier this month, The New Yorker editors posted a link to his powerful story, “Last Night,” on their Facebook timeline. In the story, a husband and wife face a singular situation. The wife is terminally ill, and the two have opted for assisted suicide. The husband plans to perform the act in their home on the very night the story takes place. They invite a younger female friend over and take her out to dinner as a prelude to the event.
From beginning to end, Salter’s writing is impeccable. The scenes are tense and taut and they propel the reader on effortlessly. Below is an excerpt from the story, but the entire piece is freely available on the The New Yorker page.
It was in the uterus and had travelled from there to the lungs. In the end, she had accepted it. Above the square neckline of her dress the skin, pallid, seemed to emanate a darkness. She no longer resembled herself. What she had been was gone; it had been taken from her. The change was fearful, especially in her face. She had a face now that was for the afterlife and those she would meet there. It was hard for Walter to remember how she had once been. She was almost a different woman from the one to whom he had made a solemn promise to help when the time came.