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Life is a Gift Horse


Aside from being a mediocre writer, Salinger impresses via one aspect: he evokes a tone, unique to him, of something like American sadness–the sadness of a people who have achieved so much, so quickly, they haven’t had the chance to sit quietly and reflect upon it all. It’s a sadness built up to oppressive heights before you notice you’re in its shadow. The Nine Stories and Catcher are suffused through with this. It stems from Salinger’s time in the war in Europe, certainly, but must also come from something deeply personal. Having recently watched the new hoopla’ed Salinger documentary, I have only been reminded of how creepy much of his fiction is. That Salinger was an inactive pedophile is obvious, and he had his JM Barrie-esque reasons for being so, but even without the constant focus on innocent youth there is a strangeness to the tales that doesn’t come from the same surreal mid-century America as, say, John Cheever’s fiction, much less Hemingway’s or Bellow’s.

Even with his powerful, dilated tone the writing itself is pretty simple and surface-oriented. It cuts to the heart vaguely at times but otherwise is dull. It reads sort of like a good stirring pop song: emotionally deep but upliftingly catchy. He knows about it, clearly, just not how to make it art.

Nevertheless, some scattered good stuff:

Each of his phrasings was rather like an ancient island, inundated by a miniature sea of whiskey.  -“Teddy”

And, true enough:

The worst thing that being an artist could do to you would be that it would make you slightly unhappy constantly.  -“De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period”



From → Readings

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