Nine Stories, published in 1953, is a collection of Salinger’s short stories, and is considered one of the finest short-story collections in the English language. Taking his cues from such masters of the medium as Guy de Maupassant and James Joyce, Salinger presents a series of brief narratives or vignettes – rarely over twenty pages in length in the average edition – in which small-scale reversals occur. The narratives hinge on these reversals: consider the revelation of the lie in “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes,” the epiphany in “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period,” the day Mary Hudson refrains from playing baseball in “The Laughing Man.”
Salinger had already hit the literary stage by the time Nine Stories was released. Two years before, Catcher in the Rye had been published, and Salinger had earlier printed stories of his (such as “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” the tale that first earned him fame) in The New Yorker. Nonetheless, Nine Stories proved a landmark in his career. Catcher in the Rye was a popular hit, especially among young readers, but critics only began hailing it to the extent they eventually did once Nine Stories came out. The collection displayed Salinger’s range and muscle as a writer, demonstrating the verve and poignancy of his writing, the precision of his prose and the insightfulness of his perspective.
Salinger did not publish again until 1961, when Franny and Zooey hit the stands. Since 1963, he has not published at all. Thus only a few works exist by which we can currently judge Salinger. Nine Stories is particularly revealing, because each ten or twenty-page entry illuminates a different theme, or formal effect, or archetype of interest to Salinger. Here we meet the Glass family, and encounter the first of Salinger’s well-known lonely geniuses – Seymour Glass. We are treated to the ironic rub between past and present tense, between the voice of a nine year-old boy and that of his older self. We also have a view to the war and its pervasive effects, specifically the way it has encroached on everyday, civilian life. A collective vision of American society in the fifties emerges from the tales and their relationships to one another. The result is both a time capsule of a particular moment in history and a timeless work of humanist art.