Short Story Month (looking at some Salinger)

Each July, my book club takes a ‘break’ and reads a group of short stories.  Each member selects one story and shares it with the group via a link to on-line availability or a photocopy or an emailed PDF file.  Everybody reads all the stories (generally, this has been a much lighter ‘pages to read burden’ than a normal month) and then we meet and discuss our thoughts.  In the past, I’ve picked out past favorite stories of mine that I’ve read more than once: Chekhov’s “The Black Monk,” Kipling’s “The Brushwood Boy” are two of my picks.  This year, I thought I’d try to find a new story.  With that in mind, when I was shopping at “Full Price Books” (er, I mean “Borders”) for my book club’s June  book (In the City, at Least Someone Would Hear Me Scream by Wade Rouse – as it turns out, this book only becomes available in paperback tomorrow, and they were sold out of the hardcover copies.  This provides me with an excuse to go back downtown one day this week after work and stop by my favorite pub, O’Reilly’s, which is just around the corner from Borders J)

Anyhoo… since they didn’t have the book I wanted, I browsed  for a while and picked up a couple books.  One was One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, which I’ve coveted for quite a while (ever since my bookclub read the same author’s Love in the Time of Cholera in early 2007 – still one of my favorite’s that my book club has read) and which I look forward to reading.

The other book I picked up was “Nine Stories” by J.D. Salinger.  It’s a collection of – you guessed it – nine of his short stories.  Now, awhile back – around the time of J.D. Salinger’s death – I had posted about finally filling a gap in my cultural literacy by reading Catcher in the Rye (Nope, still haven’t done that), and perhaps feeling guilty about never getting that done led me to buying this book.

I read two of the shorter stories in the little café (actually if you’ve been to the downtown Indianapolis Borders you know this is a misnomer) before I left the store.  Neither one of them would I recommend to my book club.

The first one was called “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”  I don’t know if you’ve read it or not but **Spoiler Alert!** I found it distressing and a bit confounding.  A woman (Muriel) is on her honeymoon (or second honeymoon I guess) with her husband, (Seymour Glass) who is apparently mentally disturbed & suffering from unspecified troubles.  I had the impression or made the conclusion (though baseless) that he was a former soldier with post-traumatic stress disorder.  His wife is vapid and the reader is persuaded via a phone call with her mother, which is related in the early part of the story, to form an easy dislike of her.

Seymour spends some time on the beach and encounters a very young girl (Sybil), who he apparently has had some contact with at the hotel in which they are both staying.  (He plays the piano and she has sat with him on the piano bench as he played).  He compliments her on her “blue swimsuit” and she points out to him that it is “yellow”; as they swim out a bit into the ocean he tells her the story of the Bananafish.  I had a brief fear that the story would veer off onto some  weird, “pedophiliacal” course, but it doesn’t. The gist of the story of the bananafish is that it eats so many bananas that it cannot swim back out of the ‘hole’ it swam into to eat the bananas.  (are the bananas in the water?  – I have no idea).  Anyway, after the swim, he goes back to the hotel room and, while gazing at his sleeping wife, takes out a gun and kills himself.  Pretty light reading, huh?

I read somewhere on-line that the Seymour character is supposed to be a ‘sensitive, fragile person” his name Seymour “see more” and “glass” as in fragile. The criticism cited on questions “is Seymour the bananafish who has glutted himself with the simple pleasures of life (like swimming with an innocent child) but who then must die because such rapture cannot be sustained? Or is he afraid of becoming like the bananafish, making his suicide his only solution for forsaking the sensual pleasures of the world?”  I guess it’s possible. Thumbs down from me on this one.

The second story I read was titled “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes” and deals with a man who receives a phone call from a friend while he is enjoying the company of a female.  The friend goes on and on about how he doesn’t know where his wife is and how he should have never married her because she apparently sleeps around.

I like this one a little better as I assumed early on that the woman with Lee (the phone call receiver) is in fact Joanie (the phone caller’s wife).  This belief is supported later when Arthur (the phone caller) asks if Lee minds if he stops by to talk, and Lee is not too encouraging of the idea.  He basically tells Arthur to relax and that Joanie will surely come home and ‘barge in’ any moment now.  The conversation ends, but the phone rings again not long afterward.  Arthur says “She just barged in,” etc. and that everything is okay.  I suspect he is lying to ‘save face’ or for other purposes, but I believe the ending is open to interpretation.  I don’t think I will recommend this story to my club either, though.

The search continues.