James Salter’s Phillip Bowman survives two sinking ships in WWII. Then he comes home, gets a job as an editor, then gets married, then gets divorced after a while, then bounces from woman to woman like a beach ball tossed around in a football stadium. He has a couple of intense love affairs, one of which he hopes will end in marriage, but ends up with a big-time betrayal instead, so he goes back to bouncing from woman to woman again. Through all this his job is good. He gets to go to Europe a lot. He has a colleague/friend who pops into the story from time to time. He seems to be living a life much like Phillip’s except he has worse luck, but he drops out after a while and we don’t really miss him.
That’s pretty all of All That Is with a lot of character description and sex thrown in for mortar, but they don’t do anything to drive the story, to keep that dramatic tension (do I use that phrase too much?) building. Mostly, Bowman lives a self-indulgent, harmless kind of life. He does do one reprehensible thing, and we think less of him for it, but he doesn’t seem to think less of himself.
So, when we leave him, he’s thirty or so years older than when we first met him, and neither he nor we seem to have profited in any way from the time we spent together. So I’ll bid him farewell and hope he develops some meaning to his beach ball existence.