I picked up the book “Nine Stories” by J.D. Salinger from the library because it came recommended by friends and I had also just finished reading Catcher in the Rye and liked that a lot. I selected “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” mostly because the title popped out in the table of contents. I read that it was originally published in the New Yorker which is a good sign, plus I was interested to see why he chose that title.
In classic Salinger style, he moves the plot in real-time through conversation and thought. In this short story, it became clear that a girl had run away to live and travel with her psychotic boyfriend. It started with her in her hotel room on a long distance phone conversation with her mother who was rightly concerned for her safety but the girl wouldn’t have it and didn’t want to be told what to do. The story then changed to the perspective of the psychotic man, who in reality didn’t seem too crazy at all. One of the little girls on the beach made friends with him and she actually coaxed him into the water. He was wearing a bath robe because his pale skin was sensitive to the sun. Finally he got into the water and splashed around with the little girl and told her of the Bananafish. Bananafish swim around looking for bananas which grow in these little holes in the ocean floor. The only trouble is that once inside the hole, they eat so many bananas that they get too fat to exit the hole. That’s why no one has ever seen one. At one point while they were swimming around he kissed her foot and she said, “Hey!” and took off back to her parents. He then headed back to the hotel room, saw his “girlfriend” sleeping on the bed, grabbed his pistol, loaded a magazine, and shot himself through his right temple.
I’m not sure that I enjoyed this story. It was short and the narrative was very readable but a plot that I largely didn’t care about. I tried to read deeper into the relationship between the girlfriend and her psychotic boyfriend as well as his relationship with the little girl, but even then I just couldn’t get engaged. Then in the very last sentence he kills himself. I do have to say that I wasn’t expecting the suicide and it literally happened in one sentence with no obvious lead up to it. The ending of the story came as a shock and I spent some time thinking about it imagining the girlfriend waking up to a gun shot three feet from her and finding him dead with a hole in his head and the resulting hotel and police actions, etc. I actually liked this part better than the whole rest of the story. So ‘A’ for effort on the surprise ending, but I still give the story 2 stars because I wouldn’t consider reading it again and I surely wouldn’t recommend it to any friends or family.
About the Author J.D. Salinger:
Born in New York in 1919, Jerome David Salinger dropped out of several schools before enrolling in a writing class at Columbia University, publishing his first piece (“The Young Folks”) in Story magazine. Soon after, the New Yorker picked up the heralded “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” and more pieces followed, including “Slight Rebellion off Madison” in 1941, an early Holden Caulfield story. Following a stint in Europe for World War II, Salinger returned to New York and began work on his signature novel, 1951′s “The Catcher in the Rye,” an immediate bestseller for its iconoclastic hero and forthright use of profanity. Following this success, Salinger retreated to his Cornish, New Hampshire, home where he grew increasingly private, eventually erecting a wall around his property and publishing just three more books: “Nine Stories,” “Franny and Zooey,” “Raise High the Roof Beam, and Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.” Salinger was married twice and had two children. He died of natural causes on January 27, 2010, in New Hampshire at the age of 91. (Courtesy of Amazon.com)
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