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am 12. Juli 2000
J.D. Salinger has rightfully been one of the most highly praised authors of the 20th century. Although best known for his coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger also wrote brilliant short stories of great complexity. This is quite an accomplishment when one considers the fact that the short story poses problems the novel easily overcomes.
Salinger's skillful use of language is what distinguishes him most from his contemporaries. There is never a dull moment in a Salinger short story as this expert author intertwines detail and dialogue to convey emotion to the reader.
Although the short story leaves little room for character development, Salinger's superb style and careful use of language allow us to get to know his characters intimately in a very short period of time.
The stories included in Salinger's dazzling collection, Nine Stories, were published between 1948 and 1953 in The New Yorker.
They exhibit a unified tone and theme, something not usually found in short story collections. They are classic Salinger and classic stories; each one contributes to the volume as a whole and each is therefore enriched in its relation to the others.
Although people disagree on which story is best, each contains elements of the relationship between children and adults, one of Salinger's signature themes.
Two of the stories, A Perfect Day for Bananafish and For Esmé--With Love and Squalor, both feature protagonists (Seymour and Sargent X) who, as veterans of WWII, have sacrificed their psychological well-being and are no longer the men they once thought they were. Both feel alienated from life and, more importantly, from those they love. Both protagonists are searching for new forms of comfort and security in the respective characters of Sybil and Esmé.
Here, however, the similarities end. For Sybil lacks Esmé's insight and the final outcome for Seymour is very different than that of Sargent X and perhaps different than what it could have been.
In A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Seymour's wife, Muriel, goes to great lengths to reassure her mother regarding Seymour's soundness of mind, although Salinger carefully lets us, the reader, glimpse Seymour's paranoia.
Searching for the non-judgmental understanding of a child (but the love of an adult), Seymour befriends young Sybil, a child he's met on the beach. After realizing the impossibility of his desires and his own isolation, Seymour is driven to one last, desperate act, an act that makes some question his sanity while others will see him as finally regaining the control he had lost.
In For Esmé--With Love and Squalor, Sargent X also has a relationship with a child, but it is one that is quite different from that of Seymour and Sybil.
An intelligent and vivacious girl, Esmé lost her own father in North Africa and is quite aware of the horrors of war. When she approaches Sargent X in an English tearoom, she senses his isolation and resultant alienation and offers to write him, something Sargent X immediately agrees to.
Thirty minutes after their meeting, Esmé takes her leave of Sargent X with the words, "I hope you return with all your faculties intact."
Had it not been for Esmé, however, and the letter she writes, Sargent X would not have returned with all his faculties intact. Esmé's letter provides the one certain connection to reality and the constancy of day-to-day life that Sargent X needs. It both comforts him and reassures him that there is still some happiness out there to be found. At a time when the war has left him with nothing else to relate to, Esmé provides the needed link.
In this extraordinary collection of stories we find different people in different situations, yet a common thread of life runs through all, linking the stories to one another and to readers everywhere. This is only a small part of the genius that typifies J.D. Salinger. Read this book and I guarantee, like millions of readers before, you'll come back for more!