Friday, 15 April 2011

Zooey high the roofbeam, Seymour


Ever since the summer of 1981 I have been periodically re-reading a trilogy of JD Salinger novellas: Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, Zooey and Seymour: an introduction (supplemented by the linked long short story of For Esme - with love and squalor.

(At the time I also loved Catcher in the Rye, but have never felt inclined to re-read it since.)

Sometimes I think I have left behind the Glass family saga, but it turns out not; I keep returning.


The reason is probably somewhat related to my loving for Tolkien - the sense of reality, depth, detail - the impression that these are not fictions but windows onto a world.


I also revel in the precision and (yet) flexibility of the writing. Every re-read I seem to notice things I hadn't noticed before.

This corresponds to the way the stories were written. They were revised (and the last two were edited, by William Shawn - editor of the New Yorker) over many months and hundreds of hours, literally word by word.

While this minute obsessiveness would probably kill most authors (it would certainly kill me!), and would certainly kill their prose - it created something unique and wonderful in this instance.


My favourite sentence - from RHTRBC is the first in this passage:

It was a day, God knows, not only of rampant signs and symbols but of wildly extensive communication via the written word. If you jumped into crowded cars, Fate took circuitous pains, before you did any jumping, that you had a pad and pencil with you, just in case one of your fellow-passengers was a deaf-mute. If you slipped into bathrooms, you did well to look up to see if there were any little messages, faintly apocalyptical or otherwise, posted high over the washbowl.


Salinger was also a very interesting personality, and was last year the subject of one of the most impressive biographies of my experience: J.D.Salinger: a life raised high, by Kenneth Slawenski.

The most surprising discovery of which was to learn that Salinger experienced just about the most arduous conceivable frontline military campaign of the Western Sphere of WWII, from the D-Day landings, through the Battle of the Bulge and up to the surrender of Germany.

That fact is worth holding at the back of the mind when contemplating the jewelled fastidiousness of his fiction.