EPS Review #217 - Nine Stories

Nine Stories, by J. D. Salinger, Bantam 1983(1953), 198pp.

My family read a lot of books this last vacation, but I did not. I spent any spare time uploading photographs or reading work email. But as were heading to the old geisha district in Kanazawa, a man jumped out of a shop or museum asking if he could be of help. I inevitably asked if there was a used bookshop nearby and there was. I drank a parting bottle of plum water with my family and headed in the opposite direction, in the intense heat. It was not long before I came to a little cafe bookshop. The stock did not look promising, but I did find a copy of Percival Lowell's Noto: An Unexplored Corner of Japan, which I might have bought only it had a broken spine and anyway it was printed in Boston. In order to buy something in return for the air conditioning which had partly dried my thoroughly soaked shirt, I picked a copy of these Salinger stories. The shop owner was very friendly and said I was the first foreign customer. He gave me a map of Kanazawa used book stores, laboriously circling each one in pen. I thought this was silly until he stopped after doing half, and said "the rest no longer exist". Such is the way of the used book store. I visited one other, excitingly rated "the dustiest" and near our ryokan, but its specialty turned out to be weighty old medical texts - it had about a half dozen on menopause alone. I did get a paperback of Anne of Green Gables , though, which I gave to Claire. The Japanese seem to love that book, which I have never read.

The Salinger stories had been paired with a Japanese edition, and as I read the intensely idiomatic and evocative dialogue, I thought how hopeless it would be for any but the most fluent anglophone to attempt. Some of the titles sounded very familiar, and I may have read them long ago: A Perfect Day for Bananafish, and For Esmé with Love and Squalor. Both involve men damaged in WWII. Both involve bewitching young girls. These stories are sad, and Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut is sadder, and meaner, about two shallow women who have not aged well. Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes is also nasty with betrayal and failure. I preferred The Laughing Man, where a child indirectly relates a Scoutmaster's summer romance through the power of storytelling. And maybe I liked best De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period, in which a pretentious adolescent comes to terms with creativity and his emergent feelings of kindness to others. It was this kindness that I remember about Holden Caulfield, and not much else. I should reread The Catcher in the Rye .

The last story, Teddy, is almost Science Fiction, and is about Eastern religion, which I see from the Wiki article became a big deal for JDS. I always like a precocious child, and here is Teddy holding forth:

Teddy looked at him directly for the first time."Are you a poet?" he asked.

"A poet?" Nicholson said. "Lord, no. Alas, no. Why do you ask?"

"I don't know. Poets are always taking the weather so personally. They're always sticking their emotions in things that have no emotions."

Nicholson, smiling, reached into his jacket pocket and took out cigarettes and matches. "I rather thought that was their stock in trade," he said. "Aren't emotions what poets are primarily concerned with?"

Teddy apparently didn't hear him, or wasn't listening. He was looking abstractedly toward, or over, the twin smokestacks up on the sports deck.

Nicholson got his cigarette lit, with some difficulty, for there was a light breeze blowing from the north. He sat back, and said, "I understand you left a pretty disturbed bunch --"

"'Nothing in the voice of the cicada intimates how soon it will die,' " Teddy said suddenly. "'Along this road goes no one, this autumn eve.'"

"What was that?" Nicholson asked, smiling. "Say that again."

"Those are two Japanese poems. They're not full of a lot of emotional stuff," Teddy said. He sat forward abruptly, tilted his head to the right, and gave his right ear a light clap with his hand. "I still have some water in my ear from my swimming lesson yesterday," he said.

I wonder if we will soon see a lot of new Salinger works, published posthumously?