In case you haven't heard, J.D. Salinger passed away today at the age of 91. As cliche as it is, The Catcher in the Rye was one of my transformative reading experiences as an adolescent. Although that book means less to me now, it's still one of the great important American literary works.
And although I may not be as enamored with Catcher any more, I still go head-over-heels for Salinger's short stories. His collection, Nine Stories, never ceases to amaze me. I've read it multiple times, and each story becomes more resonant and complex with each reading. So, in honor of Salinger, I am including a passage from my favorite Salinger story, "For Esme - with Love and Squalor."
This passage takes place after a meeting between an American soldier and an adolescent British girl during World War II. The soldier/narrator promises to write a story for the girl, and she reminds him of this before they part ways.
From "For Esme - with Love and Squalor," by J.D. Salinger
Esme was standing with crossed ankles again. "You're quite sure you won't forget to write that story for me?" she asked. "It doesn't have to be exclusively for me. It can -"
I said there was absolutley no chance that I'd forget. I told her that I'd never written a story for anybody, but that it seemed like exactly the right time to get down to it.
She nodded. "Make it extremely squalid and moving," she suggested. "Are you at all acquainted with squalor?"
I said not exactly but that I was getting better acquainted with it, in one form or another, all the time, and that I'd do my best to come up to her specifications. We shook hands.
"Isn't it a pity that we didn't meet under less extenuating circumstances?"
I said it was, I said it certainly was.
"Goodbye," Esme said, "I hope you return from the war with all your faculties intact."
I thanked her, and said a few other words, and then watched her leave the tearoom. She left it slowly, reflectively, testing the ends of her hair for dryness.
RIP, Salinger. Maybe now we'll get to see all that secret work you've been hiding away...