I cannot speak for the rest of the group, but when one of the members of my book club announced that he wanted us to read Nine Stories, I cringed. My only experience with Salinger had been The Catcher in the Rye, which I detested. However, I relented.
And I was more than pleasantly surprised. I think that Salinger works best in short form. He is one of the preeminent writers of dialogue. There are different types of proficiency: true dialogue–the way that real people speak–and informative dialogue. Informative dialogue serves one purpose: to further the story. No word is wasted, everyone speaks only to contribute to the overarching plot. Salinger achieves true dialogue, with slang, non-sequiturs, odd phrasing, vernacular. I continually appreciated this feature of his writing. “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” and “Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes” (as well as most of the others) boast this feature of excellent dialogue.
One of the major themes of Nine Stories is innocence, both its retention and loss. The juxtaposition of children and adults, immaturity and maturity is a motif which bolsters this, and we often see children acting older than their ages, but not exactly getting it right. Another theme we see is the mundane nature of the world and the attempt to break free from that banality. The more you grow up, the more dull the world will seem. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” and “Teddy,” which bookend these stories, as well as “Uncle Wiggily” seem linked by their shocking nature–the horrific consequences when confronted with the end of innocence. “For Esme–With Love and Squalor” (my favorite story) and “Teddy” deal with children above the level of others their own age, yet Esme cannot fully match her extensive vocabulary which subsequently suffers from malapropisms. “The Laughing Man” explores an instance when a boy’s idol becomes fallible. Innocence continually conflicts with the impending, fallen nature of life.
Many of these stories feature the Glass Family, which Salinger develops throughout his body of work, so we know that they are interconnected both thematically and physically. He explores them further in other works.
I will certainly read the rest of Salinger’s stories and novellas, as I judged him too harshly based upon The Catcher in the Rye.