Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger

Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction by J. D. Salinger

 

I had been warned about Salinger’s later works but the first novella in this collection was good enough to lower my guard.  I was, accordingly, unprepared for how much I would hate Seymour: An Introduction. 

This was a huge disappointment to me as Seymour has long been a subject of interest for me.  It was A Perfect Day For Banana Fish, the short story detailing the events leading up to Seymour’s suicide, that first inspired my love for Salinger’s writing.  In Franny and Zooey it becomes clear that the members of the Glass family remember him with great reverence.   Imagine my delight, then, on discovering not only that there was a Salinger book I had yet to read but that the subject of that book was the mysterious Seymour Glass. 

As with Franny and Zooey, Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, is actually a collection featuring two novellas.  The First, Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters, recounts the events of Seymour’s wedding day from the point of view of our narrator and Seymour’s brother, Buddy Glass.  Seymour, having failed to show up at his own wedding is absent from the story.  The story is an example of Salinger at his best.  The plot may be sparse but the dialog is brilliant and Salinger is able to do so much with so little, drawing indelible portraits of the players involved with minimal brush strokes. 

And here is where Seymour: An Introduction goes awry.  The novella is a rambling, stream of consciousness effort on the part of our narrator (Buddy Glass again) to draw a portrait of his brother.  It is a self-indulgent mess.  I do not oppose self-indulgence on the part of artist’s on principle.  Indeed, I think creative freedom demands that we be tolerant of self-indulgence.  But, it can be a dicey proposition, as artists like David Lynch and Quentin Tarrantino demonstrate.  Still, I am willing to suffer through a few Kill Bill’s if eventually we get an Inglorious Basterds.  Lost Highway is a small price to pay for a masterpiece like Mulholland Drive. 

Seymour, however, could be accurately described as a fiasco.  Salinger, through his proxy Buddy, spends a lot of time talking to his critics and defending his writing against slights, real and imagined.  His narrative wanders aimlessly from one uninteresting and obsessive musing to another and he even retroactively shitties up some of his earlier word by disavowing it and asserting this new narrative as authoritative. 

At one point in the narrative Buddy laments that earlier attempts to portray Seymour with minimalist strokes did his subject a disservice.  There is, however, a wonderful shining moment in Seymour: An Introduction.  It comes near the end of the book when Salinger breaks off from his direct dialog with the reader and instead of telling us about Seymour, he shows us something about him by telling a story about shooting marbles.  This two page anecdote, so sparing in its details, tells me more that is vital about Seymour Glass than the rest of Buddy’s rambling narrative combined.  

I realize that in writing this review I have let behind the realm of the amateur reader and have become, in the end, one of the critics that Salinger despises so very much.   This is a regretful necessity of my 52 Books in 52 Weeks project but I remain, at heart, an amateur reader.  I read for the sheer joy of it and, usually, when I dislike something as much as I disliked Seymour: An Introduction, I put it down.  But I was interested in hearing what Salinger had to say even if I was not enjoying it and I thought it important to have at least one negative review in this year-long endeavor.  In any event, Salinger dedicates Raise High The Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction to any amateur reader left in the world, or anybody who just reads and runs.  It is unfortunate that Seymour: An Introduction heaps such abuse on these very same readers.

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