91 of 98 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2000
J.D. Salinger has rightfully been one of the most highly praised authors of the 20th century. Although best known for his coming-of-age novel, The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger also wrote brilliant short stories of great complexity. This is quite an accomplishment when one considers the fact that the short story poses problems the novel easily overcomes.
Salinger's skillful use of language is what distinguishes him most from his contemporaries. There is never a dull moment in a Salinger short story as this expert author intertwines detail and dialogue to convey emotion to the reader.
Although the short story leaves little room for character development, Salinger's superb style and careful use of language allow us to get to know his characters intimately in a very short period of time.
The stories included in Salinger's dazzling collection, Nine Stories, were published between 1948 and 1953 in The New Yorker.
They exhibit a unified tone and theme, something not usually found in short story collections. They are classic Salinger and classic stories; each one contributes to the volume as a whole and each is therefore enriched in its relation to the others.
Although people disagree on which story is best, each contains elements of the relationship between children and adults, one of Salinger's signature themes.
Two of the stories, A Perfect Day for Bananafish and For Esmé--With Love and Squalor, both feature protagonists (Seymour and Sargent X) who, as veterans of WWII, have sacrificed their psychological well-being and are no longer the men they once thought they were. Both feel alienated from life and, more importantly, from those they love. Both protagonists are searching for new forms of comfort and security in the respective characters of Sybil and Esmé.
Here, however, the similarities end. For Sybil lacks Esmé's insight and the final outcome for Seymour is very different than that of Sargent X and perhaps different than what it could have been.
In A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Seymour's wife, Muriel, goes to great lengths to reassure her mother regarding Seymour's soundness of mind, although Salinger carefully lets us, the reader, glimpse Seymour's paranoia.
Searching for the non-judgmental understanding of a child (but the love of an adult), Seymour befriends young Sybil, a child he's met on the beach. After realizing the impossibility of his desires and his own isolation, Seymour is driven to one last, desperate act, an act that makes some question his sanity while others will see him as finally regaining the control he had lost.
In For Esmé--With Love and Squalor, Sargent X also has a relationship with a child, but it is one that is quite different from that of Seymour and Sybil.
An intelligent and vivacious girl, Esmé lost her own father in North Africa and is quite aware of the horrors of war. When she approaches Sargent X in an English tearoom, she senses his isolation and resultant alienation and offers to write him, something Sargent X immediately agrees to.
Thirty minutes after their meeting, Esmé takes her leave of Sargent X with the words, "I hope you return with all your faculties intact."
Had it not been for Esmé, however, and the letter she writes, Sargent X would not have returned with all his faculties intact. Esmé's letter provides the one certain connection to reality and the constancy of day-to-day life that Sargent X needs. It both comforts him and reassures him that there is still some happiness out there to be found. At a time when the war has left him with nothing else to relate to, Esmé provides the needed link.
In this extraordinary collection of stories we find different people in different situations, yet a common thread of life runs through all, linking the stories to one another and to readers everywhere. This is only a small part of the genius that typifies J.D. Salinger. Read this book and I guarantee, like millions of readers before, you'll come back for more!
48 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on January 15, 2002
In Nine Stories, J.D. Salinger seems bent on exposing the poignant complexities of the people around us. The characters of these timeless narratives are typical American men and women, nestled away in suburbs; unwinding on summer retreats and buried in apartment complexes; folks who, on the surface, seem fortunate and content. Mr. Salinger peels past their public appearances, throwing them conundrums bound to expose their hidden insecurities, shortcomings and naivety. A visit from a college roommate causes an upheaval of reflection and regret in a suburban housewife in "Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut;" romantic turmoil unearths a mean streak in the chief of a boy scout-type organization in "the Laughing Man" and Seymour Glass, the burnt-out intellectual whose presence would loom over Salinger's latter work, falls over the edge in the intense, unpredictable, unforgettable classic, "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." Fifty years after they were conceived these characters could still be your neighbors or schoolmates. The vivid portraits of Nine Stories are practical assessments for the modern American dream.
30 of 34 people found the following review helpful
Because this collection of short stories features children in most of them, some dismiss it as kiddie lit in the same vein as Salinger's "Catcher In The Rye," a great novel but read more in high school than anywhere else. Many see it as the beginning of Salinger's ascent to his mountain of impenetrability and Glass-centric navel gazing. Both grasp parts of the elephant, but miss a larger fact. "Nine Stories" is, story-for-story, one of the most beguiling marriages of disciplined fiction-writing and metaphysical inquiry.
"The most singular difference between happiness and joy is that happiness is a solid and joy a liquid," notes the narrator of the most liquid story in this collection, "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period." It seems to me that line is a key for understanding Salinger's unique approach, as well as why so many people are put off by him.
Salinger's fiction doesn't read like anyone else's, especially when you move beyond "Catcher." "Nine Stories" is the most mainstream, and also most engaging and best-written, example of his Zen approach to fiction, both in substance and form. He was more interested in communicating feelings and inner perceptions than plots or even ideas, and this liquidity feels somehow wrong in the light of stories we usually read.
But these stories actually work quite well, not just in isolation but in tandem. The first and the last story, "A Perfect Day For Bananafish" and "Teddy," play off each other, a senseless death in one story being explained by the patient, precocious narrator in the other. What are represented in one story as "bananafish" and the other as "apple-eaters" are the grasping throngs of people, bad and good, who reach out for material delights and miss out on the greater, encompassing music of life, and the bookend tales take stock, in a wry yet deeply beguiling way, of those who hear that music and are isolated for it.
Witty yet sincere, funny but tragic, each of the stories hits you differently. Not all are bullseyes. "Down At The Dinghy" and "Just Before The War With The Eskimos" leave me a bit flat and suffer most from Salinger's disinterest in plot. But "For Esme - With Love And Squalor" truly deserves its reputation as one of the most searing and uplifting stories in American fiction, while "The Laughing Man" is my personal favorite as it details a doomed romance from the perspective of a child onlooker, with the ingenious device of a rambling campfire tale that sets you up for the big fall.
Salinger wrote fiction like no one else, as cosmic riddles (or "koans" as Zen Buddhists would call them) meant to engage one spiritually rather than intellectually. The literati may dismiss him, but he wasn't writing for them but instead for the lost people of his world, the girl with the big nose who stays in her room when guests arrive or the quiet guy who lives with his mom, telling them that they are loved and in a better place than they know.
It's true Salinger took this approach, in later works, to where it became harder to read him, and less rewarding. But "Nine Stories" is the distilled essence of his vision in perfect digestible form, an episodic novel of people at crossroads in their lives coming to terms with their places in the cosmos. If he flushed his brilliant talent down the drain following this muse, "Nine Stories" shows he at least did so with the best of intentions.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on April 4, 2010
I've always had a "love/hate" relationship with NINE STORIES. I want to regard the stories with the esteem that critics and other writers have accorded it throughout the years; but while Salinger's talent for creating characters, conveying dialogue, and capturing subtle emotional moods is undeniable, there's a quality of strangeness and superficiality to the stories that has always given me pause...
NINE STORIES opens with "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" -- a strange story, and the one that made Salinger famous. Seymour Glass (who will figure prominently in much of Salinger's later fiction) is a WWII veteran who suffers from some sort of psycho-emotional problem stemming from his wartime experiences. While honeymooning with his wife in Florida, Seymour spends a day on the beach outside their hotel playing with a young girl while his wife remains in their hotel room, talking on the phone to her mother. Later, Seymour returns to his hotel room where his wife is asleep, and blows his brains out. The story was probably shocking when it was first published in 1948, but today it seems odd and peculiar; and Seymour's untimely death seems too sudden and inexplicable. Suicide is always tragic; but what has always disturbed me more than the suicide is the subtle suggestion in the story of (Dare I say it, and tread unkindly on Salinger holy ground?) pedophilia. Is that why Seymour kills himself? Or is it because of his psychological problems? Or something else entirely? I don't know; but my first impression when I read "Bananafish" years ago was that Seymour is a borderline pedophile, and that's the same impression I had when I recently re-read the story. Unfortunately, right or wrong, first impressions are sometimes lasting impressions.
"De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period" is another strange story -- about a guy who takes a job at an art-correspondence school in Canada, where he teaches his students to paint by mail. To one of the students -- who happens to be a nun - he writes long, intimate letters (Salinger, by way, was known for writing long letters to his love interests). She never responds, and he eventually experiences some sort of mystical revelation that enables him to let her go her way. "Daumier-Smith" is one of my favorite Salinger stories, with its blend of caricatures, deadpan humor, mystical bedpans, and speed-of-light revelations. Weird? Yes; but the weirdness works in this story, because the story reads like a dream, and weird things happen in dreams. The prose is smooth and slick -- the hallmark of Salinger's writing style -- and it's easy to get caught up in it, to drift along with it to the end -- at which point the reader may wonder what the point of the story is (other than the somewhat trite revelation "Each nun to her own", reminiscent of the Fat Lady speech in "Zooey"). Nevertheless, "Daumier-Smith" is an amusing, charming story with a happily light-hearted ending -- almost a perfect short story, like "For Esme: With Love and Squalor."
"For Esme" is one of the finest short stories ever written about the effects of combat on a soldier. Sergeant X (Salinger in one of his many fictional disguises) suffers a nervous breakdown because of his wartime experiences, and while convalescing, finds solace for his shattered psyche in a letter from a young girl named Esme, whom he met before shipping out for D-Day. "For Esme" is Salinger at his best -- and I wish he would have included in this collection more of his war stories ("A Girl I Knew" and "A Boy in France" come to mind); in some ways, they are superior to his later fiction, which focuses almost exclusively on Zen mysticism. "Teddy" is one of these mystical Zen stories, with its famously-enigmatic ending: Who falls, or who pushes whom, into the swimming pool? It's a "cute" story, and Teddy is an insufferably likeable character; but when Salinger uses his characters to preach Zen principles, the stories bog down and the plot all but disappears. But mysticism is one of Salinger's signature themes, and without it, his stories might not be as popular as they are.
The other stories showcase the range of Salinger's narrative skills. "Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut" and "Just Before the War with the Eskimos" are examples of his ability to advance a story almost solely through dialogue -- although it's unclear what the point of the stories are. "The Laughing Man" is a wildly creative fable-like story framed in the complicated "story-within-a-story" narrative technique; "Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes" is the story of a love triangle with an ironic twist and too many cigarettes, Chrissakes, and goddams; and "Down at the Dinghy" is a simple story of childhood innocence, memorable (to my mind) if only for the odd statement that appears at the end of the story: "Then she put a wild hand inside the seat of his trousers, startling the boy considerably, but almost immediately withdrew it and decorously tucked in his shirt for him." It's something almost any mother would do for her upset child -- tuck in a shirt and pat a bottom -- but not stick her hand inside his pants. Why the subtle, ambiguous suggestion of -- something else? Perhaps I'm reading more into the sentence than Salinger intended; but given Salinger's story-telling talent, I have to assume that the "suggestiveness" is intentional, to provoke a response -- or, in keeping with the koan-like nature of the stories, to stimulate thought or insight. But insight into what?
This, I think, is the crux of my ambivalence about NINE STORIES. Despite the narrative finesse of the stories, they seem to lack a certain depth, dimension, and -- except that most of the stories have to do, in some way, with children -- a unifying thematic significance. Nevertheless, over fifty years later it's still an amazing collection of uniquely original fiction, a fusion of eastern mysticism and the short story form. But the originality of the fiction is eclipsed by its strangeness and superficiality -- and it's this that prevents me from giving it the wholehearted recommendation it probably deserves. Or maybe I haven't yet had my "Daumier-Smith" moment and realized how great NINE STORIES really is.
37 of 44 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 1999
This book is essential if (a) you've ever read Salinger, and (b) if you love short fiction. These tales brought him to the top of my list of favorite short story writers. He is able to paint exquisite pictures of people with their words and mannerismns, often needing little else to move story's narrative. What I particularly enjoy is his occaisional touch of humorous irony that is sometimes reminiscant of John Collier (known more as a poet than short story writer, many of his stories turned up on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and some even on TWILIGHT ZONE). Salinger, for the most part, provides much stronger endings than are popular with today's slice-of-life short fiction. They are often surprising and always thought-provoking. I may be old fashioned, but I believe this is how short stories should be written--and it's how I try to write mine.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on June 28, 2001
In a lifetime your will find a few books like well worn tools that fit your hand and speak to you with such lucid insights(without mixed metaphores) that you read them over and over again. You will keep them in a trove of broken spines and yellowed pages in the corner of your bookshelf and every time you see them you will smile.
I bought this book in the summer of '68 when I was just out of the Army and could not yet walk. I read it all three times and most of it more than that before I took up another book. My most vivid memories of that summer are of the charicters in this book. Real people who I still recall after thirty years, people who I know better than some I live with now...
If you haven't read Salenger; I can't tell you what his work is like. The writing is completely unique. He is better than Steinbeck & Whelty and Heller at their best. Reading this is like seeing a color that you have never seen before. There is the feeling that the lighting is somehow different, fresher, clearer than before. Other writers can create a world that is dreamlike, but Salenger makes this world, the world we are in,seem like the dream. It goes beyond seeing with the eyes of the Characters. You are the characters. You don't just know their thoughts, you have their thoughts. It feels like watching Toby's sister drinking milk.
Ok,I can't articulate this. But 97 of us are telling you what you need to know. Buy this book. Read it. Drink it. Inhale it. Give it to someone you love. Press it in the dictionary of your heart.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2005
I am floored by Salinger's wit and perception every time I read these stories. As other reviewers have said, he really just might be THE BEST short-story writer of all time. All the stories spring to life--there is nothing contrived or unnatural ever, whereas even in Chekhov (to name another great story-teller that I happen to be reading now) it feels strained or false some of the time. In other words, most short stories are still literature, but Salinger's transcend it and become reality. Everyone has favorites, and I suspect the only reason I don't adore all of them is because I don't fully understand the brilliance in each.
But here goes my list:
For Esme with love and squalor (Everyone's favorite, and not hard to see why! My favorite dialogue. ever.
Esme gave me a long, faintly clinical look. "You have a dry sense of humor, haven't you?" she said--wistfully. "Father said I have no sense of humor at all. He said I was unequipped to meet life because I have no sense of humor."
Watching her, I lit a cigarette and said I didn't think a sense of humor was of any use in a real pinch.
"Father said it was."
This was a statement of faith, not a contradiction, and I quickly switched horses. I nodded and said her father had probably taken the long view, while I was taking the short (whatever that meant).
"Daumier-Smith's Blue Period" (my personal favorite), if simply for this heart-rending line:
"If you have not as yet replied to my letter, please go on refraining. It is possible that I was mistaken and I do not willfully invite any disillusions at this point in my life. I am willing to stay in the dark." The last line tears at me. Always!
"War with the Eskimos" (so mundane, yet so well-written and keenly perceptive!)
"Pretty mouth Green my eyes" (OK, some people don't seem to get this story. Think about it: is it really hallucinatory, as another reviewer was saying?
If you're still confused, check this article out. You'll look at this story in a whole new light :)
And finally, my favorite physical description ever is from "Teddy" :
"His eyes, which were pale brown in color, and not at all large, were slightly crossed--the left eye more than the right. They were not crossed enough to be disfiguring, or even to be necessarily noticeable at first glance. They were crossed just enough to be mentioned, and only in context with the fact that one might have thought long and seriously before wishing them straighter, or deeper, or browner, or wider set. His face, just as it was, carried the impact, however oblique and slow-travelling, of real beauty."
The last line especially, is such a beautifully clear way of explaining something we all intuitively know.
If this isn't enough to entice you to buy the book, then you may as well give up reading.
Salinger's Nine Stories are the best collection of short stories ever, in my opinion, and Brothers Karamazov is the best novel ever written.
Get the two today. You won't be sorry!
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on January 3, 2002
J.D. Salinger's short fiction, as these "Nine Stories" show, is squarely in the New Yorker style, providing snapshots of the comfortable postwar lives of smart urban people, but there is a mark of strange distinction here. These stories merge the realistic and the bizarre so effortlessly and naturally, they make human experience seem more interesting and special than we usually perceive it to be. These are stories to be read, and reread, and reread for the fun of plunging into their mysterious depths and coming up with whatever pearls may have appeared since the last time they were read.
Each story is unique, complex, and perplexing. It would be difficult for me to pick a favorite, but the one that intrigues me the most is "Just Before the War with the Eskimos." It has an ending that is so inscrutable, describing it would be futile -- but I'll just say it involves the relationship between a discarded chicken sandwich and a dead Easter chick. It's like holding a locked box in your hands, the key nowhere to be found, wondering what could possibly be inside.
The characters have secrets that are barely, if at all, revealed to the reader, who is forced to look for clues in the text. We read about a man with a lost soul and an oblivious wife ("A Perfect Day for Bananafish"), two college pals who drunkenly reminisce about old times ("Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut"), and a ten-year-old genius who has little use for emotions ("Teddy"). There is a story within a story, where the "inner" story is affected by the events of the "outer" story ("The Laughing Man"), a story about a man's motivation to write a story ("For Esme -- With Love and Squalor"), and a telephone conversation between two men about a woman ("Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes").
The stories can be appreciated for their surface beauty as well. The interaction between the characters creates palpable tension, the dialogue is sharp and vivid, there is hardly a wasted word; and so, if indeed it is impossible to fathom the full mysterious depths of each story, then, as the protagonist of "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period" says, I am willing to stay in the dark.
20 of 24 people found the following review helpful
Perhaps one of the reasons I never cared for Catcher in the Rye was that I came to it after reading Salinger's Nine Stories, which in every way seems much superior. These stories work in a way that many collections of short stories by a single author don't, because of a unified tone and single vision that is at once both bleak and yet sympathetic to what is fundamental in the human condition.
I first read this collection more than 30 years ago and have reread all the stories numerous times with great pleasure. It is a shame that Salinger retired so early, but even if he had left nothing but this one short collection of stories, he would have secured a place among the significant writers of the 20th century. Through a style that is disarmingly simple and direct, he manages to touch reader's feelings deeply. And while in his later Glass family novels he slips into a kind of 'cute' self parody, these stories are deftly crafted with no misstep to be seen.
This is art that doesn't refuse to have a human heart.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on February 5, 2001
These are short stories by perhaps the all-time master of the short-story genre. I still wish Salinger would publish a complete volume of his 36 stories, so that it doesn't become impossible to find his earlier stories. I, for one, will do my best to keep them all alive, if only because the ones he is less proud of serve to reinforce the themes and ideas of his truly great stories, one of which I will now discuss.
The structure of Salinger's 20th story, the first of the "Nine Stories," "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," seems bizarre at first. It is divided into two sections. The first deals with a discussion between Seymour's wife and his mother-in-law. The second half describes a discussion, on a beach, between Seymour and a little girl named Sybil, then follows Seymour to his room where he commits suicide. The reader is surprised by the ending, and is left with two major questions: why does Seymour kill himself, and what is the significance of Seymour's Parable of the Bananafish?
Many analyses have been published which purport to give the answer to these two primary questions. Most of them, are (alas!) wrong! Most of them answer the first question correctly, in part; anyone who has read The Catcher in the Rye knows that Salinger creates protagonists who are brilliant, inspiring, wise people, surrounded by a culture that produces and glorifies shallow, materialistic people and values. Seymour, like Holden, is destroyed by the world around him; this much, at least, is beyond question.
These analyses usually have, at best, a weak answer to the second question. Because both the Bananafish and Seymour die, it is easy to work backward logic and conclude that Seymour has stuffed himself with intellectualism as the bananafish stuff themselves with bananas, and that his death is as a result of his intellectual greed. That is NOT the correct interpretation of the story, and let no one tell you otherwise.
The bananafish are those people like Muriel and her mother - superficial, judgmental, ignorant. They glut themselves with superficial, material things and ideas. This is why half the story is spent describing Muriel as a "girl," never a woman, obsessed with her own appearance and the appearances of others, completely devoid of any understanding of art, beauty, or higher thought. She is cruel (the woman in the "awful dinner dress"), she ignores Seymour's attempts to teach her to love poetry or music, and she respects nothing. Thus, the point of Seymour's parable is that such shallow people kill themselves-- not literally, as he does, but spiritually. Consider how Salinger treats spiritual versus literal death throughout these Nine Stories, especially "Teddy."
Now, about Sybil. She is the key to the whole story, as children often are in Salinger's stories (think of the children in "Catcher.") Consider her name alone: she bears the name of the undying seer-witch of ancient legends, who desires only to be allowed to die. Seymour speaks to her, hoping to find in her the innocence of childhood, desperately hoping she has not yet been corrupted by culture. At first she seems to be what he is looking for (and the sexual tension is only due to Sybil's similarity to Muriel!), but through subtle hints, he slowly realizes that it is too late; she is corrupt. She, like Muriel, is cruel (she pokes a dog with a stick), jealous (she shoves another girl off a piano bench), and vain (among other clues, she is wearing a bikini, not a swimsuit, despite being about seven or eight years old). He tells her the parable of the bananafish, hoping to save her (just as he tried to save his wife by sending her Rilke's poems), but his story is completely beyond her comprehension. Seymour now realizes that there is no hope; even children are at the mercy of our mindless culture. This is why he kills himself.
As proof, I offer this: if Seymour was a bananafish, the title would be: "A Perfect Day for A Bananafish," since Seymour would be fulfilling his destiny as a bananafish on this day. However, since "Bananafish" is plural, it can only refer to the shallow, ignorant masses who have succeeded this day in destroying one of the few humans with the intelligence to reject them.
This story was not intended, when first written, to be the first of what have become known as the "Glass Series." In one of these later stories, Salinger (hiding, thinly, behind his narrator) says that he has come to regret writing this story, since Seymour's character had to be altered significantly in order to fit into the later stories.
These stories are (for those who wish to find out more about Seymour): Franny Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters Zooey Seymour--an Introduction Hapworth 16, 1924
If you want more detail on this interpretation, read Eberhard Alsen's book on the Glass Stories. These ideas were his before they were mine, and I am VERY grateful.