We’ve been doing readings at each of our weekly meetings of The Monarch Writers of short fiction by established authors, to try to point out sections where the writer achieves a feat we admire and pinpoint how they did so, and to take turns picking the story to be exposed to a variety of tastes and style. And this week was no different. As it was my turn to pick a story, I chose one that I’ve always been fond of, which I first encountered at a much younger age, “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor” by J.D. Salinger.
We wanted to get to our own writing and critique so we didn’t read through the entire thing, but I suppose reading through this Salinger piece went as well as I could have hoped. Known for his intimate character portraits and precious dialogue, there was some resistance to enjoyment reading this is a group, and critical, setting. Salinger attempts such delicate sleight of hand with language and gesture that to call attention to it in such a way inevitably lessens the effect.
But I think it was good to read something like this to show, as I read in an article as I was digging this piece out, how Salinger’s frequent depiction of chance encounters that leave both parties changed without a necessarily long engagement, mirror the relationship between reader and author. And while his coterie of precocious children and damaged white men may not be everyone’s cup of tea (for those pitiable Americans who even indulge in tea, Esmé), it’s worth getting a look inside Salinger’s world.
For so many have undoubtedly found some strong identification therein.