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"Nine Stories," by J.D. Salinger

This collection of nine stories was recommended to me by the father of a friend, so when I saw the book at the library, I grabbed it and took it home.

On the whole, I enjoyed them, but didn't really love them, although a few were excellent in a way that creeps up slowly, rather than a "love at first sight" sort of way. My initial impression, as I read the first two, was that they reminded me of the "Twilight Zone." Not because there is any supernatural element to them though (they're what I'd call psychological in focus), and I soon realized that I was making the connection because of the era in which they were written. The nine stories had the same flavor for me, even though they're really about a decade earlier than TZ. These stories are very evocative of the 40s and 50s, and, it seemed to me, of a particular segment of the population: mostly dissatisfied middle- to upper-class east coast Americans.

There's not a lot of action in the stories; they're character studies, really. Or, rather, studies of interpersonal relationships (the intersection of characters), and mostly strained relationships at that. A lot of couples sniping at one another with a bored air which comes from frequent repetition, and people who seem thrown together more by convention than preference. Also a lot about the effect of war on the individuals and families involved in it. Some of my favorite stories (all my favorites, actually) involved children. This is where I thought Salinger particularly shined - in the way he brought some interesting and unusual children to life. "Down at the Dinghy" is a beautiful study of a troubled (or at least confused) child and his mother; "For Esme, With Love and Squalor" (which seems to be considered the "favorite" story by most people) is the touching story of how a chance interaction with a precocious girl affects the life of a WWII soldier.

I enjoyed both of these stories, but I think my very favorite was "Teddy," which is about a 10-year-old genius who also happens to be very close to spiritual enlightenment. On the whole, I found this story a beautifully done piece on reincarnation and non-attachment.

SPOILERS AHEAD:

The twist at the end of this story could be heartbreaking, but I couldn't find it sad at all, after considering all that Teddy said when talking with Nicholas. When seeing things through Teddy's eyes, it's clear that there is no tragedy in his death (something I am able to accept readily in this context, as Teddy's spiritual beliefs parallel my own. Of course, it's easier to accept in fiction than it usually is in real life). Especially after reading the other stories, which really didn't have what I felt was a spiritual dimension, this story took me pleasantly by surprise in how matter-of-fact yet powerful the message was.


These stories were very different from the sorts of things I usually read, and I enjoyed them. I will probably someday look up other works by Salinger, as I understand that many of these characters turn up again in novels. I'd like to see some of them again, and I get the feeling that there is some controversy about just which characters turn up where, at times (like the identity of X in "Esme"). I think I'd enjoy that, when I'm in the mood for something slow-paced and subtle (which is how I'd categorize these, on the whole).

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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
sageofgodalming
Mar. 22nd, 2007 05:08 pm (UTC)
This is the only Salinger I have read, and it kind of made sense to me when I heard that some of the characters are interconnected in other stories - I got a little frustrated at times as it was.

My recollection of Teddy was that I was a bit disappointed - it felt like a predictable science fiction cliche.

I liked several of them, though.
irinaauthor
Mar. 23rd, 2007 04:14 pm (UTC)
I liked Nine Stories very much as well, but my favorite book about the Glass Family is Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction. They're also the focus in Franny and Zooey.
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