I recently discovered this collection of short stories by J.D. Salinger in my parents’ basement. I wish I’d discovered it years earlier, for a simple egoistic reason: I might’ve enjoyed the book more before I sharpened my feminist-critical blades. Before I grew weary of male novelist tropes. (Passages of the text could easily be more male novelist jokes.)
”A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is a great opener, in the way “Table for Glasses” is a great opener to Jimmy Eat World’s Clarity: Slow, slightly creepy, depressing, both unexpected and a quintessence of the artist’s work.
Salinger deals in American disillusionment. Most of his characters are smack in the middle of middle/upper-class America, and all want to escape from (banal) torment. Through stories (“The Laughing Man”!), drink, and death. The writing is simple, precise, elegant in the peculiar way that distinguishes Salinger.
“For Esmé – with Love and Squalor” is brilliant, but not unproblematic. The first half is creepy in a similar vein as “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” – the central character is very, very fascinated with a girl. I feared that it might turn too Lolita, but turns into a story of innocence shelled to smithereens in a grinding war. This story seems to be the most autobiographical of the texts by Salinger I’ve read, making it both impressive and disturbing.
“For Esmé” is the apex of the collection. I’m afraid that the last three stories are almost tedious. I barely remember a line or situation from “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes.” “Teddy” reminded me a lot of John Irving, specifically Owen Meany. The story unfortunately is more a great sketch for a planned novel than an amazing short story. “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period” is the type of self-indulgent tortured white young (upper class) artist rambling I would’ve loved 10 years ago but can barely stand today. However, as with many other Salinger stories, things could not be as straightforward as they seem.