RAISE HIGH THE ROOF BEAM, CARPENTERS AND SEYMOUR

AN INTRODUCTION

These two long short stories have previously appeared in the New Yorker and both deal with the eldest child and most outstanding member of the remarkable Glass family — Seymour Glass. Raise High...is an account of Seymour's wedding day in 1942, narrated by Buddy Glass. Seymour didn't show up atthe arranged ceremony (and never makes a direct appearance in the story, the action taking place between an embarrassed but loyal Buddy and some wedding guests on the bride's side) -but he later eloped with the anxious bride. Seymour An Introduction is a far more complicated matter (and reveals more of Salinger than many of his readers may like to know.) The central fact about Seymour Glass is that he committed suicide at the age of 31 while on vacation with his wife in Florida. To his six brothers and sisters, all of whom were prodigies themselves, Seymour is practically a Buddha. We learn here, again via Buddy, that he was, besides being an academician, a poet, influenced primarily by Oriental philosophy. Seymour's experiences, beginning at least when he was eight years old, are all essentially religious — whether they take place in the barbershop, in Loew's 72nd St., or shooting marbles. Even his flaws seem perfect and religious. In fact, Seymour Glass is America's most consciously religious fictional character. How to justify his suicide? Some Salinger readers have now taken to raising other objections: the incestuousness and narcissism of the Glass family in general; the fact that Salinger doesn't love everybody, including his phoneys, (though one would think it the writer's privilege, if not obligation, to approve of his characters over some others); etc. etc. J.D. Salinger may be in a trap but, still, he has created real people, (there would be no discussion otherwise). For our part, devotedly, we read on.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 1962

ISBN: 0316766941

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1962

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

A PERMANENT MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

One of America’s great novelists (Lost Memory of Skin, 2011, etc.) also writes excellent stories, as his sixth collection reminds readers.

Don’t expect atmospheric mood poems or avant-garde stylistic games in these dozen tales. Banks is a traditionalist, interested in narrative and character development; his simple, flexible prose doesn’t call attention to itself as it serves those aims. The intricate, not necessarily permanent bonds of family are a central concern. The bleak, stoic “Former Marine” depicts an aging father driven to extremes because he’s too proud to admit to his adult sons that he can no longer take care of himself. In the heartbreaking title story, the death of a beloved dog signals the final rupture in a family already rent by divorce. Fraught marriages in all their variety are unsparingly scrutinized in “Christmas Party,” Big Dog” and “The Outer Banks." But as the collection moves along, interactions with strangers begin to occupy center stage. The protagonist of “The Invisible Parrot” transcends the anxieties of his hard-pressed life through an impromptu act of generosity to a junkie. A man waiting in an airport bar is the uneasy recipient of confidences about “Searching for Veronica” from a woman whose truthfulness and motives he begins to suspect, until he flees since “the only safe response is to quarantine yourself.” Lurking menace that erupts into violence features in many Banks novels, and here, it provides jarring climaxes to two otherwise solid stories, “Blue” and “The Green Door.” Yet Banks quietly conveys compassion for even the darkest of his characters. Many of them (like their author) are older, at a point in life where options narrow and the future is uncomfortably close at hand—which is why widowed Isabel’s fearless shucking of her confining past is so exhilarating in “SnowBirds,” albeit counterbalanced by her friend Jane’s bleak acceptance of her own limited prospects.

Old-fashioned short fiction: honest, probing and moving.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-06-185765-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2013

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