Posted in Short Stories

Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut


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?

Posted in Fiction

Franny and Zooey

In the course of reading J. D. Salinger’s novel Franny and Zooey, something struck me as odd about the decade of the 1950’s.  Salinger wrote the novel in 1955.  He also set the novel in 1955, so the novel takes place in the “present”.  When I think of the 1940’s or 1930’s or decades prior, I think of them as historical.  When I think of the 1960’s and since, I don’t think of those decades as historical.  I think of them as more or less the present.  So that leaves the 1950’s:  this decade doesn’t seem like either.  The decade is in some sort of limbo.  I’m sure my age has something to do with this.

This unusual aspect of the 1950’s intertwined itself with the unusual Glass family.  Les and Bessie had seven children of which the youngest two are the novel’s title characters.  All of the children are exceptionally intelligent.  Two of the older children have died – one from World War II and one from suicide.  The majority of the story takes place in the family’s New York apartment within the time frame of a few hours.  Franny, the youngest, is having a spiritual crisis or nervous breakdown (depending on how the reader wants to look at it).   Zooey, Franny’s older brother, seems torn between feeling sorry for his sister and being ticked off with her.  He deals with both his sister and his mother with a little bit of tenderness and a whole lot of sarcasm.

The novel’s themes revolve around religion, yet I wouldn’t call this a religious novel.  Discussing religion and philosophy along with the falseness and sincerity found in both seems to be the theme.  I enjoyed Zooey’s tirade when, fed up with Franny’s issues, he tells her that he doesn’t mind her praying to Jesus – as long as it’s the Jesus in the New Testament, the Jesus who got mad at the sales people in the temple and destroyed their tables, not the Jesus who has been made into St. Francis of Assisi – writing canticles and talking to animals.

The Glass family makes other appearances in Salinger’s work.  His genius makes them a real family.  The wonderful personalities and character of Franny and Zooey take precedent over the religious conversations.  This is truly a novel – not just an essay on religion disguised as fiction.

Posted in Short Stories

“The Laughing Man” by J.D. Salinger

Drawing the Jack of Hearts this week gave me another story from J. D. Salinger’s Nine Stories.  When I began reading “The Laughing Man”, I realized that I had read it before.  I’ve had this collection for a long time, so I’m wondering if I will remember other ones.

The narrator, who isn’t named, tells this story as a flashback to 1928 when he was nine.  As a member of a scouting organization called the Comanches, on weekends, he hops on a bus with his Chief and the other Comanches to go to a park to play baseball or football or some other sporting activity.  The Chief is John Gedsudski, a mild mannered young adult whom the boys idolize.

Salinger easily combines the innocent expectations of nine year-old boys with the sadness that can come with growing up.  One day the Chief brings a girl, Mary Hudson, along with him when the boys play baseball.  Much to the dismay of the boys, she politely insists on playing.  Much to their surprise, they discover she can hit the ball – really well.  The nine year-old narrator describes her in one of my favorite lines:

Her stickwork aside, she happened to be a girl who knew how to wave to somebody from third base.

During the bus rides, the Chief tells the boys stories he makes up about an action hero called The Laughing Man – a name given to the character due to a facial deformity.  The boys sit on the edge of their seats while The Laughing Man gets out of life-threatening situations while fighting various arch-enemies.

The fact that Salinger uses baseball in this story makes it another favorite of mine.  He uses the game, the boys, the Chief, The Laughing Man and Mary Hudson to drive home (pun intended) the point that all good things come to an end.

Posted in Short Stories

“De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period” by J. D. Salinger

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!

Posted in Short Stories

“After Rain” by William Trevor

This week I picked another wild card for my Deal Me In Short Story Project – the two of spades.  As I enjoyed William Trevor’s story “Sacred Statues” last week, I thought I would pick another of his stories, “After Rain”.  I’m glad I did.  Last year around this time I read J. D. Salinger’s short story “For Esme -With Love and Squalor” and knew that it was going to be the story to beat for my favorite.  No story last year ever did overtake it, although I read a lot of great “runners up”.  Jay at Bibliophilopolis posted about this William Trevor story in 2011.  “After Rain” is now my 2013 short story to beat.

Harriet is spending a vacation at the Pensione Cesarina in Italy.  Her story is full of vivid descriptions of the dining room, the people dining, and the Italian countryside.  She’s vacationing alone.  Her story is also full of reflections on the recent break-up of a relationship as well as the divorce of her parents twenty years prior.  As a child, her parents brought her to the Pensione Cesarina.

After her dinner one day, she takes a walk to the nearby village and ducks into a church during a rain shower.  Inside the church she views a painting of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel tells Mary she will be giving birth to Jesus.  As she leaves the church and sees the countryside after the rain, she seems to have some unspoken revelations about herself, her relationships and her parents.

(This painting of the Annunciation is by Maurice Denis)

The story doesn’t use a concrete plot.  William Trevor tells Harriet’s story with what Jay calls “impressions” – impressions of loneliness, impressions of loss and mourning, impressions of renewal and impressions of hope. While the religious painting and the rain shower act as catalysts to Harriet’s revelation, I find it difficult to describe her experience as “religious”.   These impressions don’t leave the reader with set answers.  Much like the painting and the rain, Trevor’s story lets us simply look and wonder.

Posted in Books in General

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters That Remind Me of Myself

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday, sponsored by The Broke and The Bookish, are characters that remind me of myself.  The top ten lists I’ve put together recently have been fun, but I especially appreciated this one.  It made me go back over the years and relive some of my favorite reading experiences.

The first book I read in which I recognized a character that reminded me of myself was Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby.  No, I didn’t see myself in the title character, but in the narrator, Nick Carraway.  In fact, many of the characters in which I’ve seen myself have been “side-kicks”.  I would like to think that I’m the extremely loyal friend like Samwise Gamgee in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but I admit that I have a jealous streak like Ron Weasley in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Several characters in Chaim Potok’s novels, Reuven Malter and Danny Saunders in The Chosen and Asher Lev in My Name is Asher Lev and The Gift of Asher Lev, reminded me that I can question my faith (or worldview or life philosophy) without abandoning it.

Sal Paradise in Jack Kerouac’s On The Road would be me (for the most part) if I ever went “on the road” with a group of friends like he did with Dean Moriarty.  The closest I ever came was Myrtle Beach during spring break in college – not exactly the same.

I’m probably too old to say that I see myself in J. D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye, not to mention it’s a little cliche, but when I was sixteen and reading the book?  Absolutely!

Somewhere in E. M. Forster’s A Room With A View, Cecil Vyse says that some people in the world are only good for books – he rather pompously includes himself in this category.  As much as I love books and while some of my friends might put me in Cecil’s category, I can’t say I see myself in him.  At the same time, I’m not the free spirit that George Emerson appears to be, either.  I saw myself more in the vicar, Mr. Beebe, with an ability to somehow combine the enjoyment of real life and books.

I don’t believe I’m as old as Santiago in Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea and I’m not much of a fisherman, but the older I get, it becomes easier to relate to this guy.

What characters remind you of you?

Posted in Short Stories

For Esme – With Love and Squalor

A few posts ago, I indicated that Jack London’s “Moon-Face” was my favorite short story that I’ve read so far this year.  While I still think it’s brilliant, I’ve read another one that may have topped it.

It’s another one of those stories that got mentioned in a book that I read a while ago.  My former book club read Michael J. Fox’s book  Always Looking Up:  The Adventures of An Incurable Optimist a few years ago.  Fox happens to mention that one of his daughters is named Esme after J. D. Salinger’s short story “For Esme – With Love and Squalor”.  At that time, I had pulled out my copy of Nine Stories by J. D. Salinger that I’ve had since around 1982 and looked up the story…but never read it until now.


Nine Stories

An American soldier, who’s also a writer, on duty in England in 1944, wanders into a church where a children’s choir is practicing.  He notices that a girl of around thirteen has one of the better voices.  After the practice has ended, he stops by a cafe where the girl from the choir along with her governess and younger brother also happen to visit.  The girl, whose name is Esme, seems rather intelligent and forward.  She strikes up a conversation with the soldier.  Her younger brother, Charles, takes a liking to the soldier, too.  The short conversation that takes place impressed me as the type of conversation one would have that, when it’s over, one thinks “I’ve just made a friend”… even if one never sees them again.  Prior to leaving, Esme asks the soldier if they can write to each other.

War and a nervous breakdown happen and in the midst I admit I had to look up the word “squalor” – it meant what I thought it meant, filth and misory.  Again, in the midst of all this, the innocence of the conversation in the cafe kept coming back to me, adding a beauty to the story that I was not in the least expecting.