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Wednesday, June 12

Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger

I salute the novelist while dearly reminiscing about Holden Caulfied, only to gladly welcome the short-story writer who is serious, intense, sensitive and fresh. Here are J. D. Salinger's nine stories in a short story collection that approaches controversial subjects such war, death, human nature, loss, social conventions or innocence. 

Short stories are instances of a writer's perspective on the things around him and pieces of himself; it is therefore important to keep in mind the facts of Salinger's life- his war years, his religious wobbles, his troubled family relations or his sentimental tribulations. There is splendour to be found in every day actions if only one happens to pay a closer look.

In A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Muriel, the young wife, argues on the phone with her mother, who is worried about the unstable husband, Seymour. They are on vacation at a seaside hotel and while Muriel is in the room, Seymour is on the beach, in a bathrobe, trying to hide his tattoos, while talking to a young girl, Sybil. He takes Sybil into the water, looking for “bananafish” – strange creatures that cannot help eating too many bananas and getting stuck in banana-filled holes. After the swimming, Seymour returns to his hotel room and after gazing at this sleeping wife, shoots himself. The man's final gesture is slightly anticipated from the beginning of the story in the conversation Muriel has with her mother, suggesting that he's suffering from post-traumatic stress after the war. His innocent story about bananafish is a symbolic description of dreamers versus materialistic beings.

For Esmé - With Love And Squalor, is the sixth story in the collection, and appeared in an April, 1950 New Yorker. It is another story with an unexpected, rather frustrating ending, about the traumatic, dehumanising effects of an unseen, yet present war. The thirteen year old Esme and her younger brother, Charles, meet an American soldier in a pub, on a rainy day. Her smart and elegant conversation and her insightful comments make quite an impression on the sergeant and they part with Esme promising to write to him. Some time later, a tired soldier, on the verge of mental breakdown finds a package from the little girl he once met in a teashop; the lovely letter and her innocent gift of her late father's wristwatch deliver the sergeant from his agony. Hell is not only the ugly war but also the inability to love and it is Esme's altruistic love that saves the sergeant's lost soul.

World War II is a vital element of several short stories in J.D. Salinger's Nine Stories collection. In A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut, For Esme with Love and Squalor, and Teddy, Salinger portrays children living in the post-war period- smart yet alienated children, forced to grow up too soon at the cost of their loss of innocence. All children in his stories are means of revealing altruism and purity to the adults, their ultimate form of salvation. Even Teddy, Salinger's most dramatic child character, a mixture of adulthood and innocence, aware of his immediate death, feels like a neglected child by his busy parents: ''I have a strong affinity for them. But they don't love me that way. I mean they don't seem able to love us just the way we are. They don't seem able to love us unless they can keep changing us a little bit. They love their reasons for loving us. It's not so good that way''.

The stories are quite short, about 20 pages or more but they are so intense and capture thousands of emotions and nuances. Salinger has a very readable style and his characters are so rich and beautifully drawn that the stories are an open invitation to re-reading. The characters are painted in soft colours of grey and they gracefully engage in witty conversations though all suffer from social conventions and limited perspectives. His stories are in the line of the realism depicted in Hemingway or Chekhov's writings that have rich dialogues, an unadorned style and compressed action in small time instances. These are short stories that will make your reading hour a happy one, filling your heart and mind with endless emotions and enriching your soul with their sensitivity.

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