- Mass Market Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Little, Brown and Company; Reprint edition (May 1 1991)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0316769509
- ISBN-13: 978-0316769501
- Product Dimensions: 10.6 x 1.4 x 17.1 cm
- Shipping Weight: 118 g
- Average Customer Review: 97 customer reviews
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #74,927 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Nine Stories Mass Market Paperback – May 1 1991
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In the J.D. Salinger benchmark "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," Seymour Glass floats his beach mate Sybil on a raft and tells her about these creatures' tragic flaw. Though they seem normal, if one swims into a hole filled with bananas, it will overeat until it's too fat to escape. Meanwhile, Seymour's wife, Muriel, is back at their Florida hotel, assuring her mother not to worry--Seymour hasn't lost control. Mention of a book he sent her from Germany and several references to his psychiatrist lead the reader to believe that World War II has undone him.
The war hangs over these wry stories of loss and occasionally unsuppressed rage. Salinger's children are fragile, odd, hypersmart, whereas his grown-ups (even the materially content) seem beaten down by circumstances--some neurasthenic, others (often female) deeply unsympathetic. The greatest piece in this disturbing book may be "The Laughing Man," which starts out as a man's recollection of the pleasures of storytelling and ends with the intersection between adult need and childish innocence. The narrator remembers how, at nine, he and his fellow Comanches would be picked up each afternoon by the Chief--a Staten Island law student paid to keep them busy. At the end of each day, the Chief winds them down with the saga of a hideously deformed, gentle, world-class criminal. With his stalwart companions, which include "a glib timber wolf" and "a lovable dwarf," the Laughing Man regularly crosses the Paris-China border in order to avoid capture by "the internationally famous detective" Marcel Dufarge and his daughter, "an exquisite girl, though something of a transvestite." The masked hero's luck comes to an end on the same day that things go awry between the Chief and his girlfriend, hardly a coincidence. "A few minutes later, when I stepped out of the Chief's bus, the first thing I chanced to see was a piece of red tissue paper flapping in the wind against the base of a lamppost. It looked like someone's poppy-petal mask. I arrived home with my teeth chattering uncontrollably and was told to go straight to bed."
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Moreover, it feels strange to revisit Salinger's unique world not merely because his eclectic turns of phrases and marginalized characters make the reader yearn for the yesteryear and a world gone by, but it is also an odd contrast to modern literature and life. Salinger's oddball, somewhat hostile, and always beautifully vulnerable gang struggling in a pedantic and square world have an immense cultural significance. Indeed, the Rockwellian undertones of Salinger's pen feels slightly uncomfortable to today's discerning viewer. In this day and age, intimate friendships and conversations between precocious children and adult men are seen as unnatural if not immediate cause for alarm which is a poor, poor reflection of our society and its crumbling mores. Salinger understands and treats young adults with dignity and serious aplomb which is quite bittersweet and worth revisiting if only to reclaim our own displaced sense of wonder and childlike innocence.
Each story is unique, complex, and perplexing. It would be difficult for me to pick a favorite, but the one that intrigues me the most is "Just Before the War with the Eskimos." It has an ending that is so inscrutable, describing it would be futile -- but I'll just say it involves the relationship between a discarded chicken sandwich and a dead Easter chick. It's like holding a locked box in your hands, the key nowhere to be found, wondering what could possibly be inside.
The characters have secrets that are barely, if at all, revealed to the reader, who is forced to look for clues in the text. We read about a man with a lost soul and an oblivious wife ("A Perfect Day for Bananafish"), two college pals who drunkenly reminisce about old times ("Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut"), and a ten-year-old genius who has little use for emotions ("Teddy"). There is a story within a story, where the "inner" story is affected by the events of the "outer" story ("The Laughing Man"), a story about a man's motivation to write a story ("For Esme -- With Love and Squalor"), and a telephone conversation between two men about a woman ("Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes").
The stories can be appreciated for their surface beauty as well. The interaction between the characters creates palpable tension, the dialogue is sharp and vivid, there is hardly a wasted word; and so, if indeed it is impossible to fathom the full mysterious depths of each story, then, as the protagonist of "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period" says, I am willing to stay in the dark.
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