One from my desk drawer

For Esmé – with Love and Squalor and other stories
by J D Salinger

I have been dipping in and out of this short story collection for a long long time, which means that I can really only say anything useful about the second half. But I’m reasonably sure I liked all of it, if that helps.

Anyone who’s read Catcher in the Rye will recognise the dry, not-one-of-the-crowd narrative voice of all these stories. Quite a few are also young male narrators, adding weight to the comparison but also to the possibility that a little of Salinger’s own life is being told here. The title story hints at this most strongly. It’s a letter to a woman on her wedding day, apologising for not being able to attend and detailing how they met (presumably for the benefit of wedding guests who might have this note read out to them?). It’s a simple, touching story of an American GI dining alone in a British cafe and being approached by a young girl who asks if she can write to him. The GI is quiet, bordering on non-communicative, possibly already struggling with the stress of war. The girl is precocious and demanding. But the pairing works brilliantly and the conversation is both believable and interesting.

Most of the stories are like this, inasmuch as they’re snapshots of ordinary lives and the not-so-ordinary personalities who are stuck living them. A couple have clear story arcs but most are more snatched, seeming to fade in and then fade out of the scene or situation being described.

First published in the USA as Nine Stories by Little, Brown and Company 1953
Published (in edited form) in Great Britain under the present title by Hamish Hamilton 1953
This edition, reproducing the original American text, published by Penguin 1994