Thursday, December 28, 2017

"Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut" (1948)

Story by J.D. Salinger not available online.

Technically, this story by J.D. Salinger belongs with his Glass family stories, though it's a bit of a stretch. The Glass family member making an appearance is Walt, who is dead during the action of this story, and the Glass family name never appears. Instead, it's a type of story we're more used to seeing from John Cheever or John Updike, exploring midcentury Eastern seaboard suburban malaise. For that matter, the word "Connecticut" never appears either, except in the title. So the insights seem a little paltry—you know, like, suburban life and values are so lame, man. Well, at least the insights have the virtue of being mostly true. As for the rest, it's great. It sparkles with Salinger's usual insanely engaging language. I understand that might be a generational, class, or otherwise narrow view, but it does work for me. The story is about one college friend visiting another. They are grown now and in their 30s and this seems to be a recurring if infrequent event. Mary Jane gets lost trying to fine Eloise's place and then they spend the afternoon getting drunk, while the maid minds Eloise's girl, who makes an appearance to charm Mary Jane and we the readers. Salinger might be at his best with children—real children, not adolescents and adults who won't grow up, though he's pretty good with them too. He just seems to understand what makes kids tick, and how we spend the rest of our lives failing to live up to that. It also means, for better or worse, that he goes to some cloying places as well. Their charms may be too precious, and certainly the idealization of them as perfect innocents is overdone. Yet it's also exactly this sense of innocence that he's especially good at—the naturally occurring and amazing kind in real children. It's also a somewhat trite war story. These days the lethal factor would probably be more like an auto accident for the same effect, but in 1948 it was still easiest just to resort to the war. The picture of ennui at the center of plenty may or may not have been radical then, but certainly the view is now mainstream, so there's some tedium to the story in that regard. But it's also Salinger in his prime, so I'm not about to steer anyone away from it.

Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Robert Penn Warren and Albert Erskine

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