Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The 6th of Salinger's Nine Stories: "For Esme--With Love and Squalor"

[Click "A Perfect Day for Bananafish,"for the first and most famous of the nine short stories;
Select "The Laughing Man" for the fourth, one of my all-time favourites. ]


Sometimes even with blogging the words don't come, or they don't come right, or at least not with any vim, vigor or vitality. So instead of a rather flaccid attempt at an overlong, uncharismatic podium lecture on the merits of the world-class short story that is "For Esme--With Love and Squalor," I thought, on this steamy July eve in Toe-ronto with the windows open wide and the breeze not forthcoming, I'd instead permit J.D., in 3 quoted excerpts, to speak for himself. I'll note only that the 2nd passage occurs in a church and that the 3rd unfolds in a "civilian" tearoom.  

i.
In April of 1944, I was among some sixty American enlisted men who took a rather specialized pre-Invasion training course, directed by British Intelligence, in Devon, England. And as I look back, it seems to me that we were fairly unique, the sixty of us, in that there wasn't one good mixer in the bunch. We were all essentially letter-writing types, and when we spoke to each other out of the line of duty, it was usually to ask somebody if he had any ink he wasn't using. When we weren't writing letters or attending classes, each of us went pretty much his own way. Mine usually led me, on clear days, in scenic circles around the countryside. Rainy days, I generally sat in a dry place and read a book, often just an axe length away from a ping-pong table. 

ii.
She was about thirteen, with straight ash-blond hair of ear-lobe length, an exquisite forehead, and blase eyes that, I thought, might very possibly have counted the house. Her voice was distinctly separate from the other children's voices, and not just because she was seated nearest me. It had the best upper register, the sweetest-sounding, the surest, and it automatically led the way. The young lady, however, seemed slightly bored with her own singing ability, or perhaps just with the time and place; twice, between verses, I saw her yawn. It was a ladylike yawn, a closed-mouth yawn, but you couldn't miss it; her nostril wings gave her away.

iii.
"You were at choir practice," she said matter-of-factly. "I saw you."
I said I certainly had been, and that I had heard her voice singing separately from the others. I said I thought she had a very fine voice. 
She nodded. "I know. I'm going to be a professional singer."
"Really? Opera?"
"Heavens, no. I'm going to sing jazz on the radio and make heaps of money. Then, when I'm thirty, I shall retire and live on a ranch in Ohio."

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