J. D. Salinger’s short story “De Daumier’Smith’s Blue Period” sealed the deal for me in regards to his genius as a writer and apparently my selection of short stories for this year contains a high percentage having something to do with art.
A nineteen year-old American boy returns to New York in 1939 after living in Paris for nine years. While in Paris, he dabbled in art. Upon his return, he applies and is hired as a teacher for a correspondence art school run by a Japanese couple. During the application process, the reader discovers how much this kid likes to lie, embellishing his background, only to find that he is the only teacher at the school and probably would have been hired regardless of his background.
I had a brief notion at the beginning of the story that this boy was going to be a pretentious art snob (he had lived in France). Though cynical and sarcastic, De Daumier-Smith (any reader would be 99% sure that this is not his real name) doesn’t take his art or anyone else’s art seriously. To me, this made him likable, maybe even endearing, and unbelievably funny. This is probably the funniest story I’ve read since Jack London’s “Moon Face”. It’s not as dark as that one, though.
He hits on (via mail, of course) his female correspondent students, including Sister Irma, much to the dismay of her superiors. He has what he calls an epiphany when he sees an attractive sales clerk in a department store window dressing a mannequin. He goes to what I consider great lengths to let his reader know that this was NOT a mystical experience – just in case someone might think that a nineteen year-old boy seeing an attractive girl in a window WOULD be mystical.
I highly recommend this story not just for a good laugh – but for a brilliant one!