J. D. Salinger’s short story “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes” gave me a film noir impression and many questions.
A “girl” is in bed with a “gray-haired man” when the phone rings. The man (named Lee) answers it to discover that it’s his acquaintance or perhaps colleague, Arthur. Slightly drunk, Arthur expresses his concern to Lee that his wife or girlfriend, Joanie, has run off. First question that pops into my head is: I wonder whether Joanie is the girl in bed with Lee? Arthur, apparently an attorney, rambles on about Joanie and their relationship while Lee questions him about a case he had that day. Arthur lost the case due to a chamber maid, some sheets and bed bugs (?). According to Arthur, their boss, Junior (Junior?) won’t be happy. Another impression comes to me at this point. I don’t think Junior is really the head partner of a law firm(?). While the phone conversation is taking place, the girl is playing around with cigarettes and the bed sheets (sheets, again?). Lee hangs up and the girl seems a little surprised that it was Arthur (maybe worried that it was Arthur?). Arthur calls right back to tell Lee that Joanie came home and went right to the bathroom (in other words, he hadn’t actually seen her come in). Now it’s time for Lee to be surprised. Is the person in the bathroom really Joanie?
The title of the story comes from a poem Arthur wrote to Joanie when they first met. The poem jumbled up the words to a “Roses are red” kind of verse. I’m not sure what this really says about Arthur or about Joanie?
In some ways, the story reminded me of a few of Hemingway’s Nick Adams stories. I get another impression that other stories might exist that fill in some of the blanks. Whether those stories are actually published or were simply in Salinger’s head, I don’t know – another question?
Anybody with some insight into this Salinger story feel free to chime in. I would love to be enlightened!
Any story that makes me wonder about so many things can’t be all bad, but I don’t think this one rises to the level of the other three of Salinger’s stories that I’ve read: