"Nicholson flicked his cigarette ash off to one side.
'I take it
you have no emotions?' he said.
Teddy reflected before answering.
'If I do, I don't remember
when I ever used them,' he said. 'I don't see what they're
Reviewed by Sara Baume
after Little, Brown published the first edition of Nine
Stories in the US in 1953, Eudora Welty
was invited to review it for The New
York Times. "J.D.
writing is original, first rate, serious and beautiful,"
she began. The piece that followed was short and succinct and
resoundingly positive. Although Welty had admired Salinger's
1951 novel, The Catcher in the Rye,
she proclaimed that "all
of its virtues can be had in a short story by the same author, where
they are somehow more at home.'"
close of review Welty had managed to capture the collection's
unique resonance and the author's
strange genius so thoroughly that she justly left coming epochs of
reviewers with little to say in praise of Nine
Stories that could possibly outsmart
such insight and precision. Toward the end of the piece was a
sentence in anticipation of things to come: "Mr.
Salinger is a very serious artist, and it is likely that what he has
to say will find many forms as time goes by - interesting forms too."
It is this mistaken assumption in an otherwise pitch-perfect review
which allows for Welty's
insight to be re-examined with hindsight almost sixty years later.
forms that Salinger's
writing found in the aftermath of Nine
Stories were undeniably interesting but
disappointingly few. In 1961 Franny and
Zooey was published followed by Raise
High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction in
1963. Both books consist of two linked novellas charting the lives
of the dysfunctional Glass family, as does the long story Hapworth
16, 1924 which appeared in The
New Yorker in 1965 and has since become
the last of Salinger's
works to be published within his lifetime.
died in January 2010 after spending more than fifty of his latter
years living in seclusion and writing, it is believed, but refusing
to publish. The stories and novellas have yet to achieve anything
like the whirlwind acclaim of his debut novel. From Catcher...
onwards through to Hapworth...,
there is something of a decline in pace and a marked rise in talk of
ideas surrounding spirituality. Yet true Salinger disciples, like
Welty, will love him less for the angst-ridden tirades of Holden
Caulfield than for the world-weary prophecies of Franny Glass, less
for the quarter-of-a-million copies of Catcher...
still sold around the world each year than for the fact of its
it is difficult
to write a review of Nine Stories
without a Salinger on one's
shoulder - without an awareness of his early charisma and ambition,
his experiences as a soldier in the Second World War, his Zen
Buddhist beliefs and withdrawal from society. With the benefit of
hindsight, it seems reasonable to believe that disregarding the
atypical facts of his life will ultimately do a greater disservice to
writing than to acknowledge them will.
Seven of the pieces
which make up Nine
originally published in The
New Yorker, amongst
the best known of which are For
Esmé - with
Love and Squalor and A
Perfect Day for Bananafish.
Although not initially written to be collected together, each story
is still coloured by a common shade of warm grey and underscored by a
common current of disaffection.
pictured is a world of "smart
alecks" and "hoodlums",
of "backgammon'"and "humidors".
Here are characters called Boo
Boo , Ramona
who dress in beaver
suits, who do
their hair up in pompadours
and chain-smoke "cork-tipped
cigarettes. Here is the landscape of glamorous New York in the
mid-twentieth century, or more accurately, the humanscape
- for Salinger is never one to waste words on description of place or
setting in time. Welty noted that "Mr.
world urban, suburban, family, mostly of the Eastern seaboard is
never a clue to the way he will treat it: he seems to write without
preconception of shackling things."
For example, from Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut:
you can get a lift with Dick and Mildred.' She listened. 'Oh. Well,
that's tough kid. Why don't you boys form a platoon and march home? You
can say that hut-hope-hoop-hoop business. You can be the big shot.' She
listened again. 'I'm not funny,' she said. 'Really, I'm not. It's just
my face.' She hung up.
heart of each story is set to the beat of its characters - to unfussy
accounts of the way in which they move through the world and interact
with one another, to their confidential phone-calls and wisecracking
conversations, to the cautious articulation of their understated
feelings and nascent beliefs. Salinger's
characters are chosen
chiefly for their capacity to spark potent dialogue. This most often
takes the form of a child in haphazard conversation with a newly
encountered adult, as Sybil and Seymour in Bananafish,
and Sergeant X in For
Teddy and Nicholson in Teddy.
His adults are characteristically broken by habit and suffering "the
ruthless cruelty of conventional social judgements and behavior",
and this is a condition rendered all the more stark when positioned
alongside the unassuming wisdom of the very young.
In some stories, in
The Laughing Man and sections of Bananafish and Down
at the Dinghy, the narrative is angled at an oblique perspective
- that of a character somehow removed from the main protagonist and
through whom the reader looks in and passes unwitting judgement. In
all stories, regardless of perspective, the narrative is basted by
strands of oblique meaning. Nothing is shouted or spelled out
inelegantly or sentimentally. Yet the attentive reader, the reader
whose life, in some unfathomable way, has tuned them to Salinger's
particular frequency will see through the humidors and pompadours to the most fundamental of things - to innocence and
regret and hope and love and madness.
In The New York
Times in 1953, Welty described Nine Stories as 'neither
easy nor simple in any degree'. Nevertheless each piece is
as worthy of reading and re-reading today as they were all of
fifty-eight years ago. Originally written in skilful criticism of a
burgeoning culture of ego and materialism, the stories 'all pertain
to the lack of something in the world.' In a contemporary world
all the more generally lacking in virtuousness, this classic
collection still tolls a sad truth - a truth that tolls all the
louder for the monumental silence of its author.
is a freelance writer based in southern Ireland. Her reviews,
interviews, articles and stories have been published both online and
in print, from Circa art magazine to The Stinging Fly literary