Sunday, May 20, 2007

Lunchtime read: For Esme with Love and Squalor

It took a week but after turning the house upside down and begging with my two year old son to point me in the right direction I finally found the Salinger short story collection shoved down the back of a radiator. I have an awful feeling the toddler might be more innocent than first suspected so the matter of the missing book has been left without the finger of blame being pointed anymore than it already has been.

Of all the stories in this collection so far this title tale is one of the best because it has a completeness that is unusual for what has often felt like an on-going dialogue. Part of the reason is that although you recognise that the narrator is again no doubt linked to the Glass family there is a limited focus just on Esme and the story of a meeting that possibly saved a man from the brink of mental collapse.

For Esme with Love and Squalor

* An American solider getting ready for D-Day pops into a church to watch choir practice and notices a girl who then follows him with her brother and governess into the café where he is having tea

* He strikes up a conversation with her and it turns out that her father and mother are dead and she is mature for her years partly as a result of that but her brother Charles does seem damaged by it

* The narrator tells her he is an author so Esme asks him to write something for her that is not silly but about squalor and so he mentions he will but then the story switches location and the solider has had a nervous breakdown after D-Day

* As he sits down to write a letter he notices a package that has been sent and it is from Esme who has sent him her watch, something he admired in the café, and he suddenly feels like sleeping and remembers her asking him to come back with all his mental facilities

Her love, despite her own misfortune, saves him from becoming a victim of his own misery – clever and very moving

More of Salinger and Gunter Grass in the next few days until both books are completed…

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