Saturday, January 29, 2005

Don't Be A God-damned Sneak

I just finished Don Delillo's White Noise, which I liked quite a bit. I was having some trouble gaining a handle on the novel for the first half of it or so, but everything started to click into place after that. Once the deadly cloud of gas showed up, I really started to get a feel for the book. It's a great meditation on American reactions to death. I probably will write an entry on the book at some point, but not just yet.

Right now, I want to talk about J.D. Salinger. I'm reading Salinger's Nine Stories at the moment. It's been about 10 months since I read any Salinger, when I read Franny and Zooey--a book I thoroughly enjoyed. It's nice to be back in his world, which I love. Catcher in the Rye is magnificent, of course, and Franny and Zooey is excellent. So far, I'm on my third story and Nine Stories is shaping up to be a great read, as well.

Salinger writes about nothing half of the time, which I like. There is plenty of meat to his stories, but there are times when it's just characters talking without much going on plotwise. At least, nothing very obvious is going on, though there is always plenty of subtext. I've always had a soft spot for that kind of fiction. I love when I read a story that seems entirely uneventful, yet by the end I'm struck at what has occurred. The second story in the book--"Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut"--does this perfectly. It's 20 pages of dialogue that seems unimportant until the end, when Salinger suddenly smacks you upside the head with the reality of his characters.

On a lighter note, I also appreciate Salinger's use of "goddam." He loves that word and it's amusing to see it used so frequently. I don't know why I'm so entertained by it, but I am. I think it just is the way Salinger is able to use the word so often, so creatively and in so many contexts. It gives his characters a certain cynical life without ever feeling redundant.

Now here's the best part I've read so far, from the story "A Perfect Day for Bananafish":

On the sub-main floor of the hotel, which the management directed bathers to use, a woman with zinc salve on her nose got into the elevator with the young man.

"I see you're looking at my feet," he said to her when the car was in motion.

"I beg your pardon?" said the woman.

"I said I see you're looking at my feet."

"I beg your pardon. I happened to be looking at the floor," said the woman, and faced the doors of the car.

"If you want to look at my feet, say so," said the young man. "But don't be a God-damned sneak about it."

It's absurd and I hope you all have started to realize by now that I love most anything that is absurd.

Perhaps the reason I enjoy Wes Anderson's work so much is that it is so reminiscent of Salinger's writing. The characters are absurd and ridiculous and the humor is dry. Everything tends to be subdued and deadpan. The characters are always the driving force behind Anderson's movies rather than the plot. I enjoy that. I appreciate that.

When I'm done with Nine Stories, I may just reread Catcher in the Rye. I don't think I ever did reread it after my American Literature class when I was a junior in highschool. It's definitely time to throw myself back into Holden's world.


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