Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Seymour: An Introduction (1959)

J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye was among the first novels that opened the world of literature to me. This was unexpected not least because I encountered it nearly 20 years after it was first published, long past its troubled-youth use-by date (S.E. Hinton or maybe Easy Rider were more the fashionable choices of my time). The strong sales across multiple generations is, in fact, one of the elements that make it so unique. For those of us so affected, the three additional slight volumes of Salinger's work available all these years were never enough. Now, with news of his death, speculation is rife that finally there may be more to come, though the rumored 15+ manuscripts could as well be incinerated, or may not exist at all. So we'll have to wait a little longer to see about that. In the meanwhile, I paid a visit to my favorite piece of his, which was actually the last of his I encountered and usually the most frequently derided, the second half of the one with the unwieldy title, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction. It's another Glass family entry, about which, honestly, I am mostly indifferent (although if that's what all 15 of those manuscripts contain, and they get out, I'm still going to check into them). The knock is that it's a self-indulgent rant. I don't think so. It's certainly a blast of language, long sentences, long paragraphs, footnotes, asides, digressions, intellectual name-dropping, stuttering and jabbering through to its points, complete with an offering of "this unpretentious bouquet of very early-blooming parentheses: (((())))." That's what first appealed to me about it, back when I adored all things gonzo in writing (Hunter Thompson, Lester Bangs, Kerouac's The Subterraneans, so on and so forth, bleeding across the mediums with Bob Dylan). Now it reads to me like a shrewd portrait of a writer whose only weapon against the world and all its agonies is words and keyboards and cigarettes deep into the night, madly flailing to make the pain stop, grasping blindly for the sense of it all. In the end, it doesn't end, it only stops—"Quickly. Quickly and slowly"—which, sadly, is how Salinger's life, and perhaps even life itself, feels to me in so many ways at this particular moment.

In case it's not at the library.

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