Teddy

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I’ve come to the end of J. D. Salinger’s collection Nine Stories.  “Teddy” tells the story of a ten year-old genius who in many ways seems more mature than his dysfunctional parents. But an old saying rears its ugly head – “there’s a fine line between genius and insanity”.

Teddy travels home from Europe on a ship in 1952 with his parents and younger sister, Booper.  The story implies that Teddy has been interviewed at several prestigious European universities.  A man named Nicholson appears on the ship.  He and Teddy know each other; however, Salinger doesn’t give his readers much detail as to how they are acquainted or why Nicholson is also on the ship.  I have the distinct impression that Nicholson has a psychology degree although he makes a comment to Teddy that he is in “education”.

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The majority of the story involves Nicholson and Teddy’s discussion about some taped interviews Teddy had with the European university staff.  During these interviews, Teddy discusses his ideas about religion and philosophy.  Teddy believes in reincarnation and tells Nicholson about his previous lives.  Teddy also decides humanity is better off without logic. In fact, he indicates his belief that when Adam ate the apple in the Garden of Eden, he brought all this pesky logic into the world.

As the reader, I can’t help but wonder how Teddy’s philosophy lines up with Salinger’s.  Is Teddy simply a literary device for Salinger’s own ideas?  It’s tempting to see the story that way; however, much like “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”, the story’s ending throws the reader for a loop – not just a plot twist, but an abrupt wrench in the thinking that Teddy’s ideas are the same as Salinger’s.

I highly recommend this collection of short stories; however, I recommend some of the stories more than others with my favorites being For Esme – With Love and Squalor, DeDaumier-Smith’s Blue Period and The Laughing Man.  If you don’t feel like reading the entire collection, try checking these out.

If you have read any of Salinger’s other works involving the Glass family, you will appreciate A Perfect Day for Bananafish and Down at the Dinghy.

The other three, Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut, Just Before the War With the Eskimos, and Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes, while not my favorite, serve to complete a thought-provoking collection of short stories.  If I would ever reread this collection in the future, I might try reading all the stories at one time.  That tends to be a big question for me when it comes to short story collections: whether to read the whole collection at once or read the stories separately over a long period of time.  I haven’t really perfected any sort of formula as to how to determine which way to go.

Anybody out there have any ideas as to how to read short story collections?

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The Open Boat by Stephen Crane

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Of Stephen Crane’s short stories (that I’ve read), I would consider “The Open Boat” to be the most like a Hemingway story.  The significant difference would be the length.  Crane’s story is twenty-five pages long.  If it had been a Hemingway story, it would probably be about three pages.  The iceberg theory (read about it here) that is applied to Hemingway would not really hold water (so to speak) with “The Open Boat”.

Four unnamed characters appear to be stranded in a life boat.  The cook, the captain, the oiler and the correspondent take turns rowing and sleeping as they dodge the waves and the wind and make their way to a distant lighthouse.  As they approach shore, they have more problems than they expect getting there.  The big question they continuously ask themselves is why “Fate” would allow them to see the shore, work hard to get there only to drown them in the process – a very Hemingway-like question.  But Hemingway wouldn’t have actually asked the question, he would have just let the reader come up with it on their own. With “The Open Boat”, the narrator explains much of the thought process that goes into the meaning of the story.

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I enjoyed the characters and found their ability to work together impressive.  While “The Open Boat” doesn’t end in quite as devastating a manner as Hemingway’s stories usually do, it’s ending does include a certain amount of sadness.

The Stephen Crane short stories that I’ve read this year come from my edition of The Red Badge of Courage and Other Stories.  I still haven’t read the title story.  It’s still “on my list”.

The Picture of Dorian Gray

I know a song written by Andrew Peterson about his awe of the canyons and mountains during a drive out west.  It’s called “Nothing To Say”.  I found this same idea – only directed toward art – in Oscar Wilde’s bizarre little novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.  As a scary story, it ranks right up there with Edgar Allan Poe and Stephen King.  In theme and tone, it reminded me of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.  

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I would be lying if said I knew exactly what Wilde was getting at in this novel.  I’m not sure if any of the main characters express Wilde’s point of view; however, I couldn’t help notice how much talking Lord Henry, Dorian Gray’s friend, did about art or about marriage or about life or death or about anything.  He had opinions about everything and most of them came in the form of little epigrams that usually left me scratching my head.  Every once in a while, he might have a point.  My guess would be that Wilde used Lord Henry as a satirical device – perhaps the opposite of how Wilde thought, himself.

For me, there is an aspect to great art, whether music, painting, novels or short stories, that is not easily defined.  Sometimes words just don’t cut it.  Maybe Wilde preferred no words to describe art as opposed to pithy and pompous little cliche’s.  Maybe Wilde felt art didn’t need to be described or defined, it could just “be”.

He knew that the senses, no less than the soul, have their spiritual mysteries to reveal.

That he would put this idea into what amounts to a horror story is even more fascinating. Sometimes things that are difficult to define come across as scary.

A Perfect Day for Kangaroos

Having read J.D. Salinger’s short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” this week, I was reminded that I had seen a title of a short story called “A Perfect Day for Kangaroos”. Being positive that it was a Mark Twain story, I scoured through my short story collections, but couldn’t find it.  I finally had to look it up on the internet and discovered that I had seen it in the table of contents of Haruki Murakami’s collection Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman.  And since I went to the trouble of figuring out who wrote it, I figured I might as well read it.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Completely different in tone from the other Murkami works I’ve read, I had a little trouble getting in to it; however, a couple going on a date to a zoo to see a recently-born kangaroo has a little of that Murakami oddness to it.  The couple has a few relatively friendly little spats while admiring the kangaroos.

One minor detail jumped out at me (no pun intended).  While the narrator of the story waits for a hot dog and a Coke, he mentions that the vendor has a boom box playing Stevie Wonder and Billy Joel.  Did this mean the story was set in the 80’s?  Possibly.  I can’t help question why this little piece of information was included.  What was important about placing the story in a specific time?  The answer to the question isn’t really that important to me.  I think Murakami tends to like questions more than answers.

A Perfect Day for Bananafish

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I tried to read J. D. Salinger’s short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” with two mindsets at the same time.  The first mindset encompassed the background of the Glass family that I’ve read in Salinger’s other works.  The ending of “Bananafish” didn’t take me by surprise even if it was rather sudden and abrupt.  Almost all of the other stories about Seymour Glass and his family at least briefly mention this story’s ending.  The other mindset involved pretending that I didn’t know anything else about the Glass family.  If that was the case, I probably would have found the ending a little disturbing.  Even having previously read about the Glass family, there really isn’t any reason or rationale to the ending – just a little more preparation.

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The story focuses on two women (actually one is a child) in the life of Seymour Glass.  I can’t exactly express fondness for his wife, Muriel; however, Salinger paints a vivid picture of her in a small amount of space.  She seems the typical late 1940’s New York sophisticate. She smokes a cigarette while crossing her legs and talking to her mother on the phone from her hotel room in Florida.  Muriel and Seymour are potentially on their honeymoon.

Meanwhile, Seymour, hanging out on the beach, encounters a child named Sybil Carpenter. From the descriptions in the story, Sybil is probably around five.  Sybil and Seymour’s exchange is rather innocent and it contrasts drastically with Muriel’s part in the story. After their friendly conversation, Seymour leaves Sybil and  returns to his hotel room. Seymour’s chat with Sybil has a prevailing, maybe even a foreshadowing, sadness to it. Lost innocence or perhaps even innocence never found could be considered the theme. A theme that’s not uncommon in Salinger’s writing.

Haruki Murakami: Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

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Just recently, I watched the John Wayne movie, The Searchers, as I saw it on a list of top ten best movies that never won an award.  I really enjoyed it and now I’ve found it intriguing that I’ve read a short story where another John Wayne movie, Fort Apache, is central to the story.  I use the term ‘central’ loosely as the story is Haruki Murakami’s “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” from his collection of short stories of the same name. The only other Murakami work that I’ve read is his more recent novel 1Q84.  “Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman” has the same surreal touch.

For me, the John Wayne reference seemed central, even if the story toggled back and forth between a current hospital visit and a reminiscing about another hospital visit – and it included a story within the story about a sleeping woman who has blind willow flies crawl into her ears.  When asked if the flies ate the woman’s insides, the storyteller answered “in essence”.  Much of the story appears to be “in essence”.

The relationship between the narrator and his younger cousin impressed me.  It was a real relationship in a surreal story.  The two make a routine visit to a hospital for the ear problems of the younger cousin when the John Wayne movie comes up.  The cousin discusses a point in the movie when John Wayne tells a colonel that if he spotted Indians it meant they weren’t really there.

Murakami makes the inclusion of a western movie and movie star blend into an eastern story.  By the end, the narrator finds himself briefly in “a strange, dim place.  Where the the things I could see didn’t exist.  Where the invisible did.”  Whether this is a western thought or an eastern thought, I’m not sure.  Maybe that’s what Murakami intended.

This story popped up on my radar when I read Jay’s post about it at Bibliophilopolis.  Since I drew the two of diamonds, a wild card, I thought I would give it a try.  I’m glad I did. I think more Murakami will be included in my future reading.

F. Scott Fitzgerald: Porcelain and Pink

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Whenever I think of the 1920’s, two things come to mind:  the Charleston and bathtubs with feet.

A bathtub with feet literally takes center stage in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story “Porcelain and Pink”.  Within the story, there is a play that makes up most of the story.  During the play’s two scenes, the actress who plays the character, Julie, is on stage in a bathtub.  In the first scene, Julie interacts with her sister, Lois, who refuses to get her a towel.  In the second scene, Julie interacts with Lois’ date through the bathroom window (he can’t see her and actually thinks she is Lois).  The play, itself, which makes up the story, just isn’t that interesting.

The interesting, and in some ways genius, aspect of the story, is the few comments the reader gets regarding the audience.  The big question asked by the audience is whether the actress playing Julie actually has any clothes on while she’s in the bathtub on stage.  The reader, or at least this reader, didn’t really care what the actress was wearing; however, imagining the inquiring minds of the audience was rather humorous.

Creating the story about a play allowed Fitzgerald  to portray the envelope-pushing raciness of the 1920’s culture without actually making the story envelope-pushing and racy.

I’ve enjoyed the sense of humor Fitzgerald has put into these Tales of the Jazz Age, but they don’t have the same brilliance found in The Great Gatsby.  I can tell it’s hiding in there somewhere, though.