We all seek an escape from the mundane regularities of life in one form or another. Some people turn to hobbies, others to intoxicating substances, and some decide to risk their lives scaling vast mountains in the tundra planes; every person has their own release.
I have never climbed a mountain before, nor do I have any grand delusions of being able to accomplish such a feat. It simply is something I have come to terms with. In this life, I am not a warrior, I am not a physicist, and I am not a mountaineer. Yet not everyone is content with leading a safe life. In the novel “Solo Faces” by James Salter, the reader follows the journey of Rand, a strong silent type with an undying thirst for climbing mountains.
Rand seeks nothing but the thrill and accomplishment of climbing mountains, and it’s this passion that propels him to travel the world, meet new people, and gain new experiences along the way. He faces many physical and emotional trials along the way, and he even becomes famous after saving a stranded couple in the mountains. But he is not a hero; he is just a man on a mission to push forward.
This book has me conflicted for several different reasons, all centered on the main character Rand. There was an odd shift over the course of the story, I actually found myself liking him less and less as the novel progressed. This is a change that caught me off guard, and I am unsure if it was intentional or not. Rand is a flawed character, and you really begin to see the flaws later in the story.
In the truest sense, he is an antihero. He does not seek to change the world, he has no real ambitions to help anyone else, and all he seems to care about is his desire to scale the next big challenge. I saw him as a man who continues to run away from any previous commitments in hopes of slaying his inner demons by scaling mountains. I never felt happy from this story, and maybe I wasn’t supposed to, but for a book all about the triumph in the face of danger, a lot of the focus seemed to be misguided.
Over time, Rand seemed to become more jaded and distant, and I had a hard time relating to him, or even understanding his motives. I became as clueless as any other character in the book that sought to inquire about him. Because of this, I sought to relate to the other characters, including Cabot, Rand’s best friend, but they were easily forgettable.
While at times “Solo Faces” presents a unique perspective of man’s determination in the face of impossible odds, the book is not without its faults, especially when it comes to relationships. Throughout the story, there are many love interests that come in and out of Rand’s life, almost all of them being unhealthy and ending in very sudden ways. In fact, there are so many different girls making confusing appearances that it got to a point where I stopped keeping track or caring about them. I saw them as romantic fodder, simple love interests with no real personality or life put into them. I felt that Salter was attempting to show a realistic love life of a rolling stone, but in the end, all it did was make a successful showcase of how not to maintain a lasting relationship with a woman.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but there are some serious mistakes he made along the way, yet no real consequences arise. Of course, he is only human, but his character flaws really shine through in his almost apathetic view towards those who care for him.
If you have a passion for mountain climbing, then I would recommend “Solo Faces.” If you do not, then you should pass on this one. While there are some laughs and some interesting philosophical ideas that will entertain you along the way, it was not a memorable read. The main character cares about nothing but himself and the mountains, the side characters are void of any personality, the idea of love and commitment mean nothing to anyone in the story, and the focus on mountain climbing, which was my favorite part, is almost never there. Adventure novels are meant to excite and entice you, and “Solo Faces” by James Salter couldn’t do either for me.