Nine Stories

Nine Stories Nine Stories and the Short Story Tradition

Salinger is often credited with pioneering and shaping what could be considered a specific short story form – namely, the New Yorker story. From “A Perfect Day for Bananafish" on, most of his best-known and most-cherished stories appeared between the covers of that magazine, and they in turn helped define New Yorker fiction.

A few of the hallmarks of the New Yorker story would be: brevity; a concern with everyday life, particularly the everyday life of the upper-class; comparatively restrained prose, with no wild Henry Miller digressions, Joycean bursts of lyricism, or Hugo-esque exclamations; a gently ironic tone – ironic enough to elicit a few laughs, but gentle enough to allow room for compassion; and a clear, simple writing style, whose formal playfulness is limited and whose power lies primarily in economy.

Both the tone and form of many of the entries in Nine Stories are reminiscent of New Yorker cartoons or covers. Take a look at the magazine’s drawings over the course of its tenure, and you’ll notice that same gently ironic tone, that same comparative focus on the upper-and-urban crust, that same emphasis on economy. Salinger’s gift is to paint people with just a few brush-strokes; like Matisse, all he needs are a few stray lines and markings to convey a human face, a human emotion, a human need. His stories wear their influences on their sleeves – Chekhov, Maupassant, Joyce – but they seem to exist in a hermetic universe all their own – a universe filled with ten year-old geniuses, bashful suitors, rueful suburban housewives, and the members of the Glass Family.

In each tale, Salinger holds back on heavy description. Stories like “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes” are almost entirely composed of dialogue; other tales, like “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” focus so resolutely on concrete events and details, uninflected and in real-time (divided by ellipses), that they could play as films. Salinger rarely explores consciousness in the overt manner of a Joyce, a Proust, or a Woolf; instead, he stays on the surface, drawing meaning from objects and bits of speech, seeking humanity in the smallest gestures, deriving the invisible from the visible. Instead of Gabriel Conroy looking out at the falling snow and the narrator waxing rhapsodic about the wintry weather and the cloaked night, we have a single diary entry: “Everybody is a nun.” That itself could be a New Yorker cartoon caption.