J. D. Salinger's writing is original, first rate, serious and beautiful. Here are nine of his stories, and one further reason that they are so interesting, and so powerful seen all together, is that they are paradoxes. From the outside, they are often very funny: inside, they are about heartbreak, and convey it; they can do this because they are pure. The whole nine have an enchanting ease about them, a deceptively loose-appearing texture, a freshness and liveliness which might bid fair to disarm the reader, as he begins, say, the remarkable "For Esme with Love and Squalor." Nothing could be further from what Mr. Salinger is about to do to him.
The stories concern children a good deal of the time, but they are God's children. Mr. Salinger's work deals with innocence, and starts with innocence: from there it can penetrate a full range of relationships, follow the spirit's private adventure, inquire into grave problems gravely--into life and death and human vulnerability and into the occasional mystical experience where age does not, after a point, any longer apply. Mr. Salinger's world urban, suburban, family, mostly of the Eastern seaboard is never a clue to the way he will treat it: he seems to write without preconception of shackling things.
He has the equipment of a born writer to begin with--his sensitive eye, his incredibly good ear, and something I can think of no word for but grace. There is not a trace of sentimentality about his work, although it is full of children that are bound to be adored. He pronounces no judgements, he is simply gifted with having them, and with having them passionately.
The material of these stories is quite different, again, from his subject. Death, war, the flaws in human relationships, the crazy inability to make plain to others what is most transparent and plain to ourselves and nearest our hearts; the lack or loss of a way to offer our passionate feeling belief, in their full generosity; the ruthless cruelty of...
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