Friday, May 21, 2010

Great Short Story: J.D. Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" I

The First of Salinger's Nine Stories 
[Introduced Here]

When perhaps the world's most famously reclusive writer died my father didn't write J.D. Salinger a letter. The Catcher in the Rye was not the reason my dad chose his profession (academia). And, as far as I know he has never read Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, never mind reading eight of the Nine Stories I'm here to speak about. But when you mention Salinger's name, my father always brings up "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" (1948), the story that opens Nine Stories.

My dad (Aba), it turns out, has good taste. This is probably the most famous short story ever published in The New Yorker

When Aba was just David and a teenager growing up in South Africa, a counselor at his (Habonim) sleepover camp read the famous story aloud to him and his fellow campers. I imagine the boys in their bunks on a humid night, clutched to the end of their beds' rusted metal frames, waiting to find out what happens next. Now a story, half of which is a phone conversation between a recently married bride and her mother wouldn't exactly seem a teenage boy's cup of tea. But then the best of anything is always so good as to break down the boundaries between man/woman, adult/child (think french fries, think a Van Gogh painting).

Inspired by this counselor's fireside idea, I read "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" aloud to a couple sets of friends when I was still living in Japan. (Said friends were not in bunk beds at the time). For perspective, in case you were picturing me regularly reading stories to strangers at my local Starbucks, the only other time I read aloud to people that aren't my wife, is when they are kids or when, more than a decade ago, I worked at a camp with autistic children (read them Charlie and the Chocolate Factory).

I've heard Salinger described as having a ventriloquist's ability - the way that he can inhabit the voice and nature of his characters. In "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" this includes: a little girl, a potentially mentally unstable man, a rather overbearing mother, and her rather superficial daughter. Each voice sounds right, sounds real. For the actor in me you can see why it would be a lot of fun to read aloud.

For the reader in you, Part II will, I hope, entice when you hear the sounds of those characters voices, and get a hint of the drive and depth of one hell of a brilliant yarn.

Click Salinger's "A Perfect Day for Bananafish Part II to continue reading.

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