|Author||J. D. Salinger|
|Publisher||Little, Brown and Company|
|April 6, 1953|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
Nine Stories (1953) is a collection of short stories by American fiction writer J. D. Salinger published in April 1953. It includes two of his most famous short stories, “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “For Esmé – with Love and Squalor”. (Nine Stories is the U.S. title; the book is published in many other countries as For Esmé – with Love and Squalor, and Other Stories.)
The stories are:
- “A Perfect Day for Bananafish”
- “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut”
- “Just Before the War with the Eskimos”
- “The Laughing Man”
- “Down at the Dinghy”
- “For Esmé – with Love and Squalor”
- “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes”
- “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period”
1) A Perfect Day for Bananafish
The story is set at an upscale seaside resort in Florida. Muriel Glass, a wealthy and self-absorbed woman, phones her mother from her suite to discuss Muriel’s husband Seymour, a World War II combat veteran recently discharged from an army hospital; it is implied that he was being evaluated for a psychiatric disorder. Muriel’s mother is concerned by reports of her son-in-law’s increasingly bizarre and anti-social behavior, and warns her daughter that he may “lose control of himself.” Muriel dismisses her remarks as hyperbole, regarding her husband’s idiosyncrasies as benign and manageable.
Meanwhile, at the resort’s adjoining beach, a child named Sybil Carpenter has been left unsupervised by her mother so that she may drink at the hotel bar. Sybil wanders the beach and finds Seymour, lying in solitude a quarter-mile from the hotel. Sybil reproaches Seymour for allowing another little girl, Sharon Lipschutz, to sit with him the previous night as he played the lounge piano for the hotel’s guests. Seymour attempts to placate Sybil by suggesting they “catch a Bananafish,” but Sybil insists that Seymour choose between her and Sharon Lipschutz. Seymour responds that he observed Sybil abusing a hotel patron’s dog, and the girl falls silent.
Seymour places Sybil on a rubber raft and wades into the water, where he tells her the story of “the very tragic life” of the bananafish: they gorge themselves on bananas, become too large to escape their feeding holes, and die. Sybil is unfazed by the story, and claims that she sees a bananafish with six bananas in its mouth. Seymour affectionately kisses the arch of one of her feet, and returns her to shore, where she departs.
Once alone, and returning to the hotel Seymour becomes less affable. He starts a baseless argument with a woman in an elevator, accusing her of staring at his feet and calling her a “god-damned sneak.” He returns to his hotel room, where his wife is taking a nap. He retrieves a pistol from his luggage and suddenly takes his own life.
2) Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut
The story unfolds at the upscale Wengler home; all the characters who appear in the scene are female. Eloise Wengler is a middle-aged and jaded suburbanite housewife in an unhappy marriage to Lew Wengler. Mary Jane is her former college roommate who works part-time as a secretary. She is divorced. Neither woman graduated from the college they attended together. Ramona is Eloise’s eleven-year-old daughter. Socially inept, withdrawn and bespectacled, she is accompanied everywhere by her imaginary friend, Jimmy Jimmereeno. Grace is the Wenglers’ African American maid.
Mary Jane visits Eloise at her home and they spend the afternoon reminiscing about their college years, chain-smoking, and drinking themselves into a stupor. Ramona returns home, and Mary Jane gushes over the girl. Eloise commands her daughter to divulge the particulars of Jimmy Jimmereeno to the guest, and Mary Jane declares the make-believe boy “marvelous.” Ramona retreats outdoors to play.
The women resume their drunken and desultory ramblings. Eloise relates the story of a young soldier, Walt Glass, with whom she fell in love when single. She still clings to Walt’s memory (he was killed in a freak accident while serving in the Pacific), and expresses bitter regret that she married Lew. Eloise embarks on a tirade against men, and Lew in particular, who lacks, she feels, the traits most lovable in Walt – “humor” and “intelligence”. She relates an event in which she and Walt were running to catch a bus, and she sprained her ankle. Referring to her ankle in good humor, Walt had said, “Poor Uncle Wiggily…” In divulging the details of Walt’s death, Eloise breaks down, and Mary Jane attempts to comfort her.
Ramona reenters the room and having overheard her mother’s remarks, announces that Jimmy has been run over by a car and killed.
The women continue drinking until they fall asleep in the living room. After dark, Eloise is woken by a phone call from her husband Lew, and after a short, sarcastic exchange, hangs up on him.
Grace, the live-in maid, approaches Eloise and respectfully asks that her visiting spouse be allowed to stay the night due to the severe weather. Eloise curtly rebuffs her employee and denies the request.
The drunken Eloise goes upstairs to Ramona’s bedroom where the child is sleeping. Turning on the light, she sees the girl lying at the extreme edge of the bed. Eloise realizes that her daughter has assumed this posture to make room for an imaginary friend, “Mickey Mickeranno.” Flying into a rage, the exasperated Eloise takes hold of Ramona and drags her to the middle of the bed, and orders her to go to sleep in that position.
As Eloise steps toward the door, she begins to repeat the words “Poor Uncle Wiggily” again and again. Sobbing, she tucks in the frightened girl and leaves the room. Downstairs, she awakens Mary Jane from her alcohol-induced slumber, and weeping, beseeches her dismayed friend to reassure her that as a freshman in college, she had been “a nice girl”.
3) Just Before the War with the Eskimos
This story begins with an argument between high school classmates Ginnie Mannox and Selena Graff, who both attend Miss Basehoar’s school in Manhattan. Ginnie confronts Selena about Selena’s habit of leaving Ginnie to pick up the cab fare after the two play tennis each Saturday. Selena tries to explain to Ginnie that her mother has pneumonia and that Selena would rather bring the money to class later, but Ginnie insists that Selena reimburse her immediately. This dispute takes the two girls to Selena’s apartment, where Selena goes inside to get money from her mother, leaving Ginnie in the living room alone.
Most of the narrative follows Ginnie’s conversation with Franklin, Selena’s irreverent older brother, whom Ginnie meets while Selena is inside. Ginnie appears repulsed by Franklin, who slinks into the room wearing pajamas and a bandage around his finger, which he accidentally cut in the bathroom. During their conversation, Franklin reveals that he once met Ginnie’s sister, Joan, and considers her the “Queen of the goddam snobs.” He also mentions that his unexplained heart troubles prohibited him from entering the Army, and that he has been working in an airplane factory for the past thirty-seven months. Because it is lunch time, Franklin offers Ginnie half of his chicken sandwich, and then goes inside to get ready for his friend Eric’s arrival. Eric and Franklin have plans to see Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast, which Eric considers brilliant. While he is gone, Eric arrives and complains to Ginnie at length about his roommate, who is a writer.
When Selena comes back to the living room with the money, Ginnie insists that Selena keep it. Ginnie also says she may come over later that afternoon, despite previously suggesting that she already had plans for that evening. During her walk to a bus stop, Ginnie considers throwing away the chicken sandwich Franklin gave her, but ultimately decides not to, remembering how it once took her three days to throw away a dead Easter chick.
4) The Laughing Man
An unnamed narrator recounts his experiences as a nine-year-old member of the Comanche Club in New York City in 1928. The leader of the club, “The Chief”, is a young law student at New York University who is described as lacking in physical attractiveness but appears beautiful to the narrator. He is widely respected by his troop for his athletic strength and storytelling ability.
Every day, after the troop has completed its activities, The Chief gathers the boys for the next episode in an ongoing story about the eponymous Laughing Man. In the format of a serial adventure novel, The Chief’s story describes the Laughing Man as the child of missionaries who was kidnapped by bandits in China, who deformed his face by compressing it in a vise; he was obliged to wear a mask, but compensated by being profoundly athletic and possessed of a great Robin Hood-like charm and the ability to speak with animals.
The narrator summarizes the Chief’s ever more fantastic installments of the Laughing Man’s escapades, presenting him as a sort of comic book hero crossing “the Chinese-Paris border” to commit acts of heroic larceny and tweaking his nose at his archenemy “Marcel Dufarge, the internationally famous detective and witty consumptive”.
Eventually, The Chief takes up with a young woman, Mary Hudson, a student at Wellesley College who is described as both very beautiful and something of a tomboy.
As the Chief’s relationship with Mary waxes and wanes, so too do the fortunes of The Laughing Man. One day, the Chief presents an installment where the Laughing Man is taken prisoner by his arch-rival, bound to a tree, and in mortal danger; then he ends the episode on a cliffhanger. Immediately afterward, the Chief brings his troop to a baseball diamond, where Mary Hudson arrives. The Chief and Mary have a conversation out of earshot from the boys, and then both return, together yet distraught.
In the final installment of the story, the Chief kills off the Laughing Man, much to the Comanches’ dismay.
5) Down at the Dinghy
Told in two distinct segments, the first involves a discussion between two house servants about their employer’s little boy, who has a history of running away. The second segment explores the mother’s efforts to reassure her son and help him cope with his fears.
The story opens with the two house servants, Mrs. Snell and Sandra, discussing the homeowner’s young son, Lionel. Sandra is very worried that Lionel will tell Boo Boo (Mrs. Tannenbaum), her employer, that Sandra has made some anti-Semitic remarks about Lionel’s Jewish father (“gonna have a nose just like his father” ). Boo Boo finds Lionel in a dinghy preparing to cast off, and refuses to allow his mother to join him. Boo Boo pretends to be admiral of the imaginary ship in order to win Lionel over and discover why he is trying to run away. He resists, even going so far as to throw his uncle Seymour’s old goggles into the lake.
Lionel tells Boo Boo that Sandra called his father a “big sloppy kike”. While he doesn’t know what this ethnic slur means, conflating the epithet “kike” with “kite”, he nevertheless grasps its derogatory connotation. Boo Boo, in an effort to reassure the boy and help him cope with the episode, succeeds in providing him insights into her own needs and the love she feels for him. At the end of the story, they race across the beach toward home, and Lionel wins.
6) For Esmé – with Love and Squalor
The story begins with the narrator needing to respond to a wedding invitation that will take place in England, and which the narrator will not be able to attend, because the date of the wedding conflicts with a planned visit from his wife’s mother. The narrator does not know the groom, but he knows the bride, having met her almost six years earlier. His response to the invitation is to offer a few written notes regarding the bride.
The first of the two episodes the narrator relates occurs during a stormy afternoon in Devon, England, in 1944. A group of enlisted Americans are finishing up training for intelligence operations in the D-Day landings. He takes a solitary stroll into town, and enters a church to listen to a children’s choir rehearsal. One of the choir members, a girl of about thirteen, has a presence and deportment that draws his attention. When he departs, he finds that he has been strangely affected by the children’s “melodious and unsentimental” singing.
Ducking into a tearoom to escape the rain, the narrator encounters the girl again, this time accompanied by her little brother and their governess. Sensing his loneliness, the girl engages the narrator in conversation. We learn that her name is Esmé, and that she and her brother Charles are orphans – the mother killed in the Blitz, the father killed in North Africa while serving with the British Army. She wears his huge military wristwatch as a remembrance. Esmé is bright, well-mannered and mature for her age, but troubled that she may be a “cold person” and is striving to be more “compassionate”.
In the next episode, the scene changes to a military setting, and there is a deliberate shift in the point-of-view; the narrator no longer refers to himself as “I”, but as “Sergeant X”. Allied forces occupy Europe in the weeks following V-E Day. Sergeant X is stationed in Bavaria, and has just returned to his quarters after visiting a field hospital where he has been treated for a nervous breakdown. He still exhibits the symptoms of his mental disorder. “Corporal Z” (surname Clay), a fellow soldier who has served closely with him, casually and callously remarks upon the Sergeant’s physical deterioration. When Clay departs, Sergeant X begins to rifle through a batch of unopened letters and discovers a small package, post-marked from Devon, almost a year before. It contains a letter from Esmé and Charles, and she has enclosed her father’s wristwatch – “a talisman”- and suggests to Sergeant X that he “wear it for the duration of the war”. Deeply moved, he immediately begins a recovery from his descent into disillusionment and spiritual vacancy, regaining his “faculties”.
7) Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes
Lee and a woman are in his apartment together. The phone rings and he reaches across her to answer it. It is Arthur, worried about his wife, Joanie, who disappeared from a party. Lee tells him to relax and assures him that she will turn up soon. Arthur is worried about his job too. He is a lawyer and has just lost a case. After he rings off Lee turns to the woman and she tells him he was wonderful and that she feels like a dog (she is apparently the missing wife). The phone rings again. It is Arthur to say that his wife has returned. Lee is speechless with amazement and ends this conversation very quickly.
8) De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period
The point of view is that of first-person narrator, John Smith, who, as an adult, is reassessing an episode in his life when he was nineteen. He dedicates the story to his late (fictional) stepfather.
The events unfold shortly after the death of Smith’s mother in 1939, when he and his stepfather return to Manhattan from Paris, where the family had spent the Great Depression years. As housemates, the “exceptionally unpleasant” Smith and his “live-and-let-live” widower stepfather are incompatible developing an Alphonse and Gaston relationship. Seeking escape, Smith applies for, and is accepted, as an instructor at a Montreal, Quebec correspondence art academy, “Les Amis des Vieux Maîtres” operated by Monsieur I. Yoshoto. Smith’s résumé overstates his artistic credentials and further, he falsely claims to be a descendent of Honoré Daumier and a confidant of Pablo Picasso. He adopts the inflated moniker “Jean de Daumier-Smith”. Smith increasingly internalizes his own contrived persona.
Les Amis des Vieux Maîtres (“Friends of the Old [Art] Masters”) turns out to be the Yoshoto’s tiny apartment, located in Verdun, a rundown section of Montreal. Mr. Yoshoto, his wife and Smith are the only “instructors” at the correspondence art “academy”.
Mr. Yoshoto assigns his new employee the task of reviewing and correcting the work of three correspondence students, two of whose crude and inept artwork dismays Smith. The work of the third student, a nun, Sister Irma, intrigues and delights Smith. In his enthusiasm, he pens an officious and patronizing letter of encouragement to the woman. Smith’s intervention on the sister’s behalf leads to the convent banning further communications with Sister Irma, ending her enrollment at the academy.
This rebuff stuns the young man and deepens his egotistical isolation. He summarily dismisses his four remaining students from the school, disparaging their work. To Sister Irma he writes a letter warning that her artistic talent will never flourish without proper schooling but never sends it.
In this alienated state, Smith experiences a transcendental revelation while looking into a display window of an orthopedic appliances store. In an instant, he grasps the intrinsic beauty of the prosaic objects he beholds. Smith begins to emerge from his disturbed existence. He writes a note in his diary, ceding to Sister Irma the power to pursue her destiny. He declares that “…’Everyone is a nun’ (tout le monde est une nonne.)” He reinstates his four pupils, establishing a long term relationship with them.
The story comprises several vignettes which take place aboard a luxury liner. The events occur roughly between 10:00 and 10:30 am on October 28, 1952.
Teddy is Theodore “Teddy” McArdle, a 10-year-old mystic-savant returning home to America with his entertainer-socialite parents and his younger sister. As part of their tour of Great Britain, Teddy has been interviewed as an academic curiosity by professors of religious and philosophical studies – the “Leidekker examining group” – from various European universities in order to test his claims of advanced spiritual enlightenment.
The first scene opens in the McArdle’s stateroom. Teddy is standing on his father’s expensive suitcase, peering out of the porthole. Mr. McArdle, apparently hung-over, is attempting to verbally assert control over his son; Mrs. McArdle indulges the boy as a provocative counterpoint to her husband’s bullying: neither adult has any real impact on the child’s behavior.
Responding to his parents’ outbursts impassively, he contemplates the nature of existence and physical permanence while observing fragments of orange peel that have been discarded overboard. The concepts that the preternatural child ponders are evidently derived from Zen and Vedantic religious philosophy, and suggest that Teddy possesses advanced enlightenment or God-consciousness. When Teddy conveys his spiritual insights to his father and mother, they interpret them merely as the products of his precociousness, eliciting annoyance or indifference from the adults.
Teddy is ordered to retrieve his six-year-old sister, Booper, who has absconded to the sport deck with her father’s expensive camera, which Teddy – indifferent to its material value – has bestowed upon her as a plaything. As he departs, Teddy delivers a short, cryptic caveat to his parents, informing them that they may never see him again outside the realm of memory.
On the Main Deck, Teddy has a brief encounter with one of the ship’s female officers, Ensign Mathewson. Forthright and exacting, the boy questions the officer and obtains information about a shipboard word game competition – and disabuses the bemused woman as to her misapprehensions regarding his advanced intellectual development.
Teddy proceeds to the Sport Deck and locates his little sister, Booper, at play with another young passenger. Booper is a domineering and hateful child, contrasting sharply with her older brother’s equanimity. Teddy, with firmness, politely exhorts the girl to return with the camera to the cabin and report to their mother. Ignoring his sister’s verbal ripostes, he reminds her to meet him shortly for their swimming lesson at the swimming pool. She submits with bad grace as he departs.
The final scene takes place on the Sun Deck, where Teddy, reclining on one of his family’s reserved deckchairs, reviews his recent diary entries. The document has been conscientiously edited and neatly written. It contains reminders to foster better relations with his father; commentary on a letter from a Professor of Literature; a list of vocabulary words to study and notes on his meditation schedule – all matters of self-improvement. While making his daily entry, he writes the following non sequitur: “It will either happen today or February 14, 1958 when I am sixteen. It is ridiculous to mention it even.”
Teddy is interrupted by a passenger named Bob Nicholson, a graduate of an unnamed university, who teaches curriculum and instruction. Nicholson is on a first name basis with the Leidekker group and has listened to a taped interview with Teddy, in which he shows a lurid interest. He peppers Teddy with questions on the boy’s commitment to the precepts of Vedantic reincarnation; Teddy remains composed in the face of the young man’s veiled hostility, and provides him with a brief sketch of this discovery of God, his relationships with his parents and his views on Zen philosophy. The boy offers Nicholson an extended metaphor on the nature of logic that challenges the young man’s rational and orthodox commitment to material reality. Teddy, in explaining his position on death and reincarnation gives a hypothetical example describing a series of events at his upcoming swimming lesson in which a fatality occurs: his own.
Teddy disengages from the interview and hurries to his lesson. Nicholson pursues him through the levels of the ship’s decks, and as he begins to descend the stairs to the swimming pool, he hears the scream of “a small, female child” emanating from the enclosed walls of the indoor pool. The story ends on this ambiguous note.
Jerome David “J. D.” Salinger ( January 1, 1919 – January 27, 2010) was an American writer known for his widely read novel, The Catcher in the Rye. Following his early success publishing short stories and The Catcher in the Rye, Salinger led a very private life for more than a half-century. He published his final original work in 1965 and gave his last interview in 1980.
Salinger was raised in Manhattan and began writing short stories while in secondary school. Several were published in Story magazine in the early 1940s before he began serving in World War II. In 1948, his critically acclaimed story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” appeared in The New Yorker magazine, which became home to much of his later work. The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951 and became an immediate popular success. His depiction of adolescent alienation and loss of innocence in the protagonist Holden Caulfield was influential, especially among adolescent readers. The novel remains widely read and controversial, selling around 250,000 copies a year.
The success of The Catcher in the Rye led to public attention and scrutiny. Salinger became reclusive, publishing new work less frequently. He followed Catcher with a short story collection, Nine Stories (1953); a volume containing a novella and a short story, Franny and Zooey (1961); and a volume containing two novellas, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction (1963). His last published work, a novella entitled “Hapworth 16, 1924”, appeared in The New Yorker on June 19, 1965. Afterward, Salinger struggled with unwanted attention, including a legal battle in the 1980s with biographer Ian Hamilton and the release in the late 1990s of memoirs written by two people close to him: Joyce Maynard, an ex-lover; and Margaret Salinger, his daughter. In 1996, a small publisher announced a deal with Salinger to publish “Hapworth 16, 1924” in book form, but amid the ensuing publicity the release was indefinitely delayed. He made headlines around the globe in June 2009 when he filed a lawsuit against another writer for copyright infringement resulting from that writer’s use of one of the characters from The Catcher in the Rye.
Salinger died of natural causes on January 27, 2010, at his home in Cornish, New Hampshire. In November 2013, three unpublished stories by Salinger were briefly posted online. One of the stories, “The Ocean Full of Bowling Balls”, is said to be a prequel to The Catcher in the Rye.