Title: Franny & Zooey
Title: Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction
Title: Nine Stories
Author: JD Salinger
This month I re-read The Catcher In The Rye and for some reason it clicked this time where it hadn’t previously. It went from being a book I’d read because I felt I ought to, a book I’d written off as overrated, to one of my favourites which I wanted to read again as soon as I’d finished it. I didn’t though, I just went on a JD Salinger binge.
Which is how I ended up reading Franny and Zooey, then Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour An Introduction, then Nine Stories.
Apart from a few of the shorts in Nine Stories, these collected novellas and short stories all concern The Glass Family – in fact, some of them (and The Catcher In The Rye) were ostensibly written by one of the Glass children, “Buddy”. There are (or were) seven Glass children, though some are only referred to, and not one story contains the lot of them. As for the stories themselves, most cover a very short period of time and focus in on one or two characters shortly before or after the second World War. Seymour, the oldest brother, has been a large influence on all the younger children to the point that both Franny and Zooey credit him with ruining them for normal company by shaping their minds at such a young age. Even if he’s not the protagonist his influence is felt strongly in all of them – particularly the pain left following his death.
The stories are too short for me to go into plot without spoiling them, so instead I’ll try and nail down why I like them, or who should read them. So, the best advice I could give to someone considering reading the stories is this. Firstly, you have to have no issues with stories where the characters talk more than they act, where the crises are all mental ones. Secondly, you have to not mind Wes Anderson families.
Myself I love eccentric, intelligent, over-educated characters and so long as they’re that, so long as they’re a little messed up and interesting, I’m willing to forgive them any unkindness to the lesser mortals that surround them. Which is just as well, because if superiority or pretentiousness was the one thing you hated most in people or fiction you might find these stories difficult to enjoy – they’re not unkind, but unless you’re willing to accept the idea that they’re brilliant their assumption that they are might be grating. It helps that for all their self-driven education, all their intelligence, they rarely seem completely happy and are most often shown in crisis, the sort of crisis while exists almost purely in their own heads. If there’s such a problem as “thinking too much” the Glass children certainly have it – though I still think it’s preferable to the more common alternative (not thinking enough).
They are, quite frankly, the reason I loved the stories so much – while I enjoy Salinger’s writing style it’s mainly they seem like such a fantastic creation. Not because you’d want to be friends with them necessarily but because it would be nice to think that they’re out there, or were at some point. With each story you dip a little further into their lives, get given another slice, and while I regret Salinger never pulled them all together completely and left us with single moments rather than a complete narrative, in other ways I quite enjoy them for that reason.
Side note: The Little Brown editions are really lovely clothbound hardbacks if you feel like tracking them down.