Discussion Post: Nine Stories
Welcome to the Nine Stories discussion post! Remember, those interested in entering the drawing for the beautiful Penguin Clothbound Classic must participate in at least one discussion before February 25. Next week, our classic will be The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, but for now, let’s discuss the Salinger:
Salinger has a distinct style to his writing, the most prominent features of which are abrupt endings and the frequent use of italics. Are these techniques distracting for you, or do you feel as though they enhance the reading experience? What do you think Salinger was trying to accomplish through these techniques?
Anyone who has read The Catcher in the Rye has probably experienced the frustration of the total lack of closure on the ending; Salinger’s characters always seem to leave the stories just as broken, if not more so, than they entered them. Salinger may, of course, be using this abruptness as a way to make the reader sit up and pay attention.
Take, for example, the ending of “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” Seymour’s suicide almost seems to come out of nowhere, and a reread is almost compulsory in order to piece the elements of the story together in a way that makes sense. I’ve read this story almost ten times over the years and I still don’t know what it means — but you can bet that I have spent a lot of time trying to figure it out, and I think that’s what Salinger intended.
As for the italics, I personally love them. The New York Times said that Salinger “used italics almost as a form of musical notation,” and they certainly convey the natural rhythms of human speech of the 1950’s. You can practically hear Salinger’s characters talking as you’re reading, stress patterns and all.
Salinger had a great deal of respect for Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald as writers. Do you see the influence of these writers in any of these stories specifically? In what ways is Salinger the Fitzgerald of his era?
Like Hemingway, Salinger was a solider who later used his wartime experiences as material for his writing. Staff Sergeant X in “For Esme — With Love and Squalor” reminds me of the solider in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. While Salinger doesn’t share Hemingway’s dedication to word economy, I believe they share a refusal to compromise when it comes to portraying the psychological realities of war.
I don’t know what I was thinking when I wrote that Fitzgerald question, but I suppose some of Salinger’s stories (e.g. “The Young Folks”) share a sense of cynical booziness with Fitzgerald’s work. Also, Holden Caulfield’s regard for Jane Gallagher is a little reminiscent of Gatsby’s love for Daisy. Can anyone think of a better answer? Please, I’m begging!
Which story in this collection was your favorite? Why? (If you didn’t like any of these stories, you can talk about why, or if you feel Salinger’s novel was superior to the stories, you can talk about that too.)
Oh, I love “For Esme — With Love and Squalor,” though my heart truly belongs to The Catcher in the Rye. Salinger, at heart, is a short story writer. Though that propensity is clearer in his uncollected stories, each of the stories in this collection is a tiny snapshot of life in the 1950’s, beautiful in the way that sometimes a particularly fine minature is more wonderful than a life-sized portrait.
“For Esme” is beautiful because of its contrast between innocence and experience. Salinger does this well in “Down by the Dinghy,” but “For Esme” has a poignancy that the other story doesn’t, probably because Salinger had been a solider and thus had a little bit more solid foundation for the story.