Tuesday, August 12, 2008
"Nine Stories" - J D Salinger
This is a collection of short stories and vignettes which act as snapshots of the lives of the characters within them. Some are rather short and feel a bit incomplete or idle, but I think this was intended by Salinger so as to not bog down the reader with overt themes or ideology and simply to show moments in peoples' lives. I'm thinking particularly of 'Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut', 'Just Before the War with the Eskimos', 'Down at the Dingy' and 'Pretty Mouth and Green Eyes' when I say that some of the stories feel a little light on purpose. Still, they are well-written and worth reading. The remaining stories are all rather touching, each in its own peculiar way, and rival 'Catcher in the Rye' and 'Franny and Zooey' as Salinger's very best works.
'A Perfect Day for Bananafish' depicts a young man recently discharged from WWII on vacation with his wife, who spends the entirety of the story on the phone with her mother discussing her husband's mental state and reassuring her that he isn't completely dangerous. The husband, the main character, is rather indifferent and distant and only brightens up when he is talking with a toddler-aged girl with whom he swims in the ocean and tells the tragic tale of the bananafish.
'For Esme with Love and Squalor' wins the award both for best title and best story in the collection (rivaled closely by 'Teddy'). It is about a young American soldier who is in training in England not long before the Invasion of Normandy. He keeps to himself and seems to be a rather reflective guy, walking around this small English town. He meets a very young girl, maybe 13 or 14, who is having tea with her family in a cafe. She sits down with him and they share a very personal and odd conversation in which she asks him to write to her from the front and also to write her a story-- preferably "about squalor". The dialogue and strange connection between these two people, who are from rather separate worlds, shows the way people can unexpectedly find each other and have a surprising, almost spiritual connection.
'Teddy', the final story in the book, is about an extremely precocious 6 year old boy who is a dedicated Buddhist and is convinced that he has been reincarnated. He is being studied by scientists and psychologists who marvel at his intelligence and spiritual insights and who, unable to help themselves upon learning that he believes he can predict the future, demand to know their future and when they might die. The boy is on a cruise ship with his parents, an eccentric and somewhat cynical couple. He wanders off on his own and has a long conversation with a man on the deck of the ship in which he casually predicts his own death just before it occurs and finishes the story. This story is really about the conflict between logic and spirituality, the clash between the rational and irrational world. It's one of the most interesting discussions of spirituality and eastern religion that I've encountered.