In 1953 J. D. Salinger published Nine Stories and this week he died. These two occasions represent triumph and tragedy, respectively, and this particular online book review is dedicated to the memory of a brilliant American author.
I love Nine Stories I think in large part because I love short stories. I love their brevity, I love the way adept authors can give just enough information to satisfy without over-explaining, I love how they will always remain, for me, the ideal bathroom-reading texts.
Being an ideal bathroom-reading text is, by the way, the ultimate compliment.
What Salinger once again masters in Nine Stories is the precise way he presents youth. Unlike so many popular teen novels today, Salinger does not dedicate much time to explaining thoughts and emotions. A certain popular vampire series employs an opposite technique, expelling paragraphs of prose to divulge a young heroine’s inner-thoughts and -turmoil.
I was stunned by the unexpected electricity that flowed through me, amazed that it was possible to be more aware of him than I already was. A crazy impulse to reach over and touch him, to stroke his perfect face just once in the darkness, nearly overwhelmed me.
– Stephanie Meyer, Twilight
Conversely, Salinger relies on taut dialogue to reveal the tension between two young people.
“Oh, were you in the Army?”
“Nope.” WIth his cigarette hand, Selena’s brother tapped the left side of his chest. “Ticker,” he said.
“Your heart, ya mean?” Ginnie said. “What’s the matter with it?”
“I don’t know what the hell’s the matter with it. I had rheumatic fever when I was a kid. Goddam pain in the–”
“Well aren’t you supposed to stop smoking? I mean aren’t you supposed to not smoke and all? The doctor told my–”
“Aah, they tellya a lotta stuff,” he said.
Ginne briefly held her fire. Very briefly. “What were you doing in Ohio?” she asked.
“Me? Working in a goddam airplane factory.”
“You were?” said Ginnie. “Did you like it?”
” ‘Did you like it?’ ” he mimicked. “I loved it. I just adore airplanes. They’re so cute.”
– J. D. Salinger, Just Before the War with the Eskimos
Pared down dialogue and language is an earmark of Salinger’s work, and while Nine Stories was written for (and heartily praised by) adults, he remains the mouthpiece of generations of youth – and rightly so.
Nine Stories features the following:
A Perfect Day for Bananafish
Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut
Just Before the War with the Eskimos
The Laughing Man
Down at the Dinghy
For Esmé – with Love and Squalor
Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes
De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period
While my favorites include The Laughing Man and For Esmé, each story is expertly crafted and elegant. This collection deserves a spot on every bookshelf.
Rest in peace, J. D. Salinger.