Posted in Fiction

Holden Caulfield: An Old Soul?

The Catcher in the Rye

Yes, at times Holden Caulfield is a whiny little dude – typical of many teenagers; however, I can’t help but find pieces of an old soul in him.  In recently rereading J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, I came across a passage that I had underlined when I was sixteen revealing Holden’s thoughts as he visits a museum.  I remember using it in the oral report I gave in tenth grade.  Apparently, it had held some significance to me then and I found it rather odd that it continued to have significance all these years (actually decades) later:

The best thing, though, in that museum was that everything always stayed right where it was.  Nobody’d move.  You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish, the birds would still be on their way south, the deers would still be drinking out of that water hole, with their pretty antlers and their pretty, skinny legs…Nobody’d be different.  The only thing that would be different would be you.  Not that you’d be so much older or anything.  It wouldn’t be that, exactly.  You’d just be different, that’s all.  You’d have an overcoat on this time.  Or the kid that was your partner in line the last time had got scarlet fever and you’d have a new partner.  Or you’d have a substitute taking the class, instead of Miss Aigletinger.  Or you’d heard your mother and father having a terrific fight in the bathroom.  Or you’d just passed by one of those puddles in the street with gasoline rainbows in them.  I mean you’d be different in some way – I can’t explain what I mean.  And even if I could, I’m not sure I’d feel like it.

Something about the passage makes me forget Holden is only a teenager.  When I was in grade school, my class would visit the Dayton Museum of Natural History on a regular basis.  And, yes, everything was always the same.  I can still remember scenes and images from those visits.  I’m sure they wouldn’t be there, now (although I can imagine).  Even if I could go back and see everything the way it was, I would be different – and most of that difference would be due to years, perhaps not just years, but life itself – that happens during the years.

Reading a favorite novel, thirty years later, can also make me realize what’s different – and what’s still the same.

Posted in Fiction

J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye (and ramblings about banned books)

I first read J. D. Salinger’s novel The Catcher in the Rye when I was sixteen and I’ve been cussing like a sailor ever since.

No, I haven’t.  I’m just kidding. (Really – I don’t).  But in honor of Banned Book week, I thought I would reread it.  It’s been a long time since I was sixteen and I was curious whether the novel would hold up as well now that I’m an adult – and a much older adult.  I have teenagers of my own, now.  I even read the same copy that I had bought at a Walden’s Bookstore when  I was sixteen.

The Catcher in the Rye

I think my passion for being free to read the books that I want to read comes from having read a few books like The Catcher in the Rye that are surrounded by controversy.  When I read them, I found the novels to be significantly deeper than their critics gave them credit. Sometimes the expression “missing the forest for the trees” comes to mind when I hear why some would want to ban books.  For some reason, when I was sixteen, I could see passed the profanity to find the character of Holden Caulfield and Salinger’s writing style fascinating.

In the case of Salinger’s novel, the protagonist was the same age as myself when I read it the first time.  I have no doubt that much of the novel’s ability to resonate with people has to do with the fact that we were all teenagers once – struggling to figure out our place in the world when the world doesn’t always seem to make sense.  I remembered Holden’s siblings D.B., a writer in Hollywood, and Phoebe, grabbing for the gold ring on the carousel.  I didn’t even remotely remember that he had a younger brother, Allie, who had died.  All these years later, Holden’s attempts to deal with his brother’s death brought a new sense of depth to his musings.

I’ve been thinking about books that high school students read.  The Catcher in the Rye may or may not still be on the reading lists, but, in my opinion, it’s a novel that has all the makings of great literature in a way that allows teenagers to relate to it.  I recently read George Eliot’s Silas Marner and discovered it to be fantastic; however, I don’t think I would have had the appreciation for the story and Eliot’s writing when I was sixteen.  I’m not  sure I would have been able to put forth the effort to read it the way I could now that I’m a more mature reader.

I’m probably rambling as much as Holden does in the novel.  One of his traits that I’ve remembered over the years is his dislike of movies.  When I was a teenager and even for most of my adulthood, I’ve enjoyed movies, but in recent years, I’ve discovered that I’ve become less and less interested in them.  I was a little surprised that this gave me more of an affinity with Holden than even when I was a teenager.

And I can’t finish this post without a few words about the banning of books.  I fully support the right of parents to monitor what their kids read – especially younger kids.  At the same time, when I think about how much I enjoyed Salinger’s story (and it was the story I enjoyed, the profanity was part of Holden’s character – but it wasn’t the story), I can’t imagine not letting my  16 or 17 year-old read The Catcher in the Rye.  I’m grateful to my public high school for including this and some other banned books on our reading list. Nobody was forced to read these books, but they were available for anyone who wanted to. I believe in the freedom to read and I believe in the freedom not to read.  I’m fairly comfortable in my ability to make that decision for myself.  I don’t need any “governing body” making it for me.

Posted in Short Stories

“Just Before the War with the Eskimos”

Q♥  Q♥  Q♥  Q♥

I didn’t think J. D. Salinger’s short story “Just Before the War with the Eskimos” lived up to its catchy title.  It also could have been called “Meeting Strangers While I’m Sitting Alone In My Friend’s Living Room”.

Ginnie Mannox has insisted on waiting in the living room of her tennis partner, Selena, with whom Ginnie has become fed up because Selena always leaves her with the full cab fare.  Selena, making numerous excuses, goes to get the money at the risk of waking her “sick mother”.  While Ginnie is waiting, she separately meets Selena’s brother, Franklin, and his friend, Eric.

Salinger’s writing elevates the two conversations to full-fledged “encounters”.  I’d call it small talk with a little edge.

For those Salinger aficionados out there, feel free to explain to me the significance of the chicken sandwich.

Posted in Short Stories

Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut

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J. D. Salinger’s short story “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” perhaps is not my favorite of Salinger’s stories, but as with any great writer, there are flashes of genius.

For me, the conversations between Mary Jane and Eloise, two former college roommates, gave a wonderful snapshot into the semi-high class society of 1940’s New York City and it’s suburbs.  I am assuming that the story took place in Connecticut but very close to New York City.  The women themselves talk in a slightly overbearing manner but neither are uncomfortable with the other.  Mary Jane has a career and Eloise has a family.  While they both sometimes question the other’s choices, they both take these questions in stride.  Maybe the free flow of alcohol accounts for some of this “stride”.

The strange part of the story deals with Eloise’s daughter Ramona and her imaginary friend, Jimmy Jimereeno.  Mary Jane goes out of her way to make Ramona and “Jimmy” feel comfortable; however, her mother seems to find Ramona’s ways difficult to handle.  There is a hint of racism on the part of Eloise toward her maid – but only a hint.  This is similar to Salinger’s story “Down at the Dinghy” where the racism is buried until the very end when it becomes subtly apparent.

Uncle Wiggily's Adventures

And then the even stranger part comes with the mention of Uncle Wiggily when one of the ladies relates a story about her hurt ankle and a former boyfriend.  Why Salinger brings Uncle Wiggily into the picture, I’m not sure.  I’m only vaguely familiar with Uncle Wiggily, who I believe was a rabbit in children’s’ stories.  I remember playing a very old version of a board game designed around Uncle Wiggily.    I’m still not sure, though, about his role in the story, unless it is simply an example of pop culture in the 1940’s.  Or perhaps it has something to do with the innocence (or loss thereof) of children – another theme Salinger intertwines into his writing.  Or there could be some kind of secret to the title that I just haven’t figured out.

I think I’m going to go with the representation of innocence and it’s loss.

This is the sixth story I’ve read from Salinger’s compilation,  Nine Stories.  Three more to go!  And these three are still “in the deck”.

Here is another post on this story by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.  It’s interesting that this story was his “King of Hearts” last year.  And also a thanks to him and his post for allowing me to not publish this post with “Uncle Wiggily” misspelled.

I’ll also use this story for a tie-in to my recent vacation.  I visited New York City for the first time.  I didn’t travel there by way of Connecticut, though.  It was Philly, across the Delaware River, then New Jersey to the Lincoln Tunnel and there was Manhattan – Times Square, Central Park – it was everything I thought it would be!

Posted in Short Stories

Boo Boo Tannenbaum: An Admiral and a Lady

10♥  10♥  10♥  10♥  10♥  10♥  10♥  10♥  10♥ 

J. D. Salinger’s short story, “Down at the Dinghy”, centers on Boo Boo Tannenbaum, the oldest daughter of the seven Glass children that frequently populate Salinger’s stories and novels.  I found this to be a pleasant surprise, as up until now, the stories about the Glass children that I’ve read have only mentioned her in passing.

Boo Boo is now an adult with a summer cottage on the lake and a four year-old son, Lionel. The story begins with the cottage hired-help (two older ladies) talking about the issue of Lionel frequently running away.  As Boo Boo enters the scene, she indicates that Lionel is now hiding out in the dinghy on the lake.

Nine Stories

The scene switches to Boo Boo and her son having a conversation at the dinghy.  The grace, poise and strength Boo Boo possesses as she figures out why her son has run away this time adds to the depth with which Salinger paints his Glass family portrait.  He throws in just enough motherly frustration to keep it real.  During this conversation, Boo Boo alludes to her time in the Navy and Lionel seems fascinated with the fact that she was an Admiral and a lady.  I recall from Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters that Boo Boo missed her brother Seymour’s wedding because of World War II.  Lionel’s Uncle Seymour is mentioned briefly by his mother.

As the conversation , and the story, finishes, Salinger reveals to the reader why Lionel was hiding in the dinghy.  I really would not consider it a spoiler if I mentioned the reason here; however, I don’t think I’ll do that and encourage anyone reading this to read the story themselves.  It’s not very long; and while it may not be my favorite Salinger story, there is something hidden in Boo Boo’s character that keeps me thinking about her and the Glass clan.

10♥  10♥  10♥  10♥  10♥  10♥  10♥  10♥  10♥ 

Posted in Short Stories

Salinger’s “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes” and a lot of question marks…

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:

For Esme – With Love And Squalor

DeDaumier-Smith’s Blue Period

The Laughing Man

Posted in Fiction

Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour An Introduction

I consider J. D. Salinger’s two-in-one novel, Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters and Seymour An Introduction a difficult novel to pin down – but it’s one of my favorites.  Boiled down to a concept, I would say it’s about “brotherly love” or perhaps it’s just about plain old “life itself”.  And I get the feeling as I’m trying to figure this out that Salinger himself would cringe at anyone trying to figure this out.

We revisit the Glass family from Franny and Zooey but this time it’s from the point of view of the second oldest of the family, Buddy, an English professor and a writer.  If I understood the timeframe correctly, Buddy is writing this in 1959.  A humor invades almost every aspect of his writing that I couldn’t help think was actually Salinger’s humor – well, I guess it would have to also be Salinger’s humor since he wrote it – but this is the fantastic game that Salinger plays here:  is the character Buddy or himself?  In Raise High, the humor brilliantly comes in the form of a single circumstance.  Buddy finds himself the only member of his large family to attend his older brother Seymour’s wedding.  It’s 1942 and World War II has interrupted most of the family’s lives.  Seymour doesn’t even show up.  Buddy finds himself in a limo filled with the bride’s miffed family and friends.  The conversations that ensue are both hilarious and informative about the Glass family where all seven children grew up on a quiz show radio program and became relatively famous.  In spite of his absence, Seymour is the most talked-about member.  And the reader learns much about this character that doesn’t show up.

In Seymour An Introduction, Buddy goes on a long “stream of consciousness” description of his brother and their relationship.  More of Salinger’s brilliance jumps off the page as Buddy gives an intense background of his brother’s personality and childhood by simply describing Seymour’s eyes, nose and ears.  Buddy also describes his brother’s (two years his senior) abilities with games and sports.  One of my favorite lines was a parenthetical statement Buddy makes about the brothers’ playing pool:

Pool I’ll have to discuss another time.  It wasn’t just a game with us, it was almost a protestant reformation.  We shot pool before or after almost every important crisis of our young manhood.

Seymour cloaked his siblings in Buddhist and Hindu teachings.  In many ways the love Buddy expresses for Seymour is for both a brother and a sage.  Interestingly enough, though, Buddy doesn’t seem to have accepted Seymour’s religious teachings as his own.  Seymour’s praise and criticism greatly influenced Buddy’s career as a teacher and writer.  Though Buddy wanders excessively in his writing about Seymour, the ending perhaps was more touching than I was expecting.  Buddy is writing this part of the story just before he is scheduled to teach a class:

…I can’t be my brother’s brother for nothing, and I know – not always, but I know- there is no single thing I do that is more important than going into that awful Room 307.  There isn’t one girl in there, including the Terrible Miss Zabel, who is not as much my sister as Boo Boo or Franny.  They may shine with the misinformation of the ages, but they shine.  This thought manages to stun me:  There’s no place I’d really rather go right now than into Room 307.  Seymour once said that all we do our whole lives is go from one little piece of Holy Ground to the next.  Is he never wrong?