Monday, May 17, 2010

Raise High the Short Story Form, Salinger and Nine Stories: An Introduction

Many have already proclaimed that with series' like "The Sopranos" and "Mad Men," we're in a golden age of TV (again). TV today is arguably churning out better quality stuff than what's being put up on the big screen. And considering how much the middle budget picture (think "A Few Good Men," think "American Beauty") - what has consistently been Oscar's bread and butter - is being squeezed out by studios investing most all their money into one or maybe two "tent-pole" movies a year (think "Avatar") this leaves only enough room for small budget fall and spring crap (think horror, think Jennifer Aniston vehicles).

Sick with cold last weekend and watching way too many "Mad Men" episodes it dawned on me that these high quality television series' are the closest the screen gets to a novel, in that they have the scope, and time, to delve deep into multiple characters and subplot. This being the case, I realized, conversely, that a feature film is actually closer in form to the short story, as movies can only deal with so many characters and they only have a couple hours in which to tell their tale.

For proof, here, some examples of movies based on short stories:
Minority Report
Brokeback Mountain
Memento
Rear Window
2001: A Space Odyssey
Rashomon
Psycho


I say all this to defend an art form that struggles for readership (assuming you're last name isn't Lahiri). I say it also for those of you not big on the form, who might have overlooked what can and should be packed into a 17 or 26 page story. I say it because as you may know J.D. Salinger was my first favourite writer (I sound like a kid talking about his firstest bestest ever friend) and yet I've only really written about The Catcher in the Rye. This is akin to being a die hard Beethoven fan and only every discussing the 9th, ignoring all the rest (including the 5th). For many Salinger fans, myself quite possibly included, it is, in fact, the short story form where Salinger was best. He certainly deserves to be called a master of the form. This is how he learned his craft; it's how he achieved his early fame; it's where Holden Caufield was first conceived of as a character. It's also where he wrote some of my all-time favourite stories.

I'd like, over the next few weeks, when not posting about movies and other books, to introduce you to/remind you of Salinger's Nine Stories. A few, like "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" are so famous and craft-perfect, as to deserve their own posts. Others I'll skip right over. This won't dreidel (to use one my father's favourite verbs) on forever. Don't you worry, sunshine. You might even like it.

For the first and most famous one click "A Perfect Day for Bananafish"

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