This read actually includes two novellas, Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction. Originally published in The New Yorker, in 1955 and 1959, they were later published together in 1963.
While the two stories are most certainly intertwined, I’ve decided to review them separately (but rate them as one) as they were written from two distinct perspectives; that of the 23-year-old Buddy Glass followed by his perspective as a 40-year-old professor living a solitary life.
Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters is set in 1942 New York and follows the young Buddy, on leave and recovering from pleurisy as he hurries to attend the wedding of his elder brother, Seymour. This is not an event that goes off without a hitch and Buddy ends up among the jilted bride’s friends and family without revealing to them his connection to the absent groom.
The story’s narrator, Buddy Glass, begins as a spectator as the wedding goes awry and through his thoughts, we learn about the seven Glass children of former vaudevillians, Les and Bessie Glass. Buddy is awed by his older brother, Seymour and remains just shy of being envious, as we learn that it would be hard not to love this unique Glass family member. Through recollection and the reading of Seymour’s diary, we get glimpses into the mind of a potentially troubled young man.
Edie Burwick, the indignant matron of honor is hilarious. She does not mince words nor does she apologize for her harsh opinions, which Buddy admits to himself is worthy of respect. She is the take charge kind of person who can be irksome, but is usually quite effective when dealing with a quandary, to the relief of those involved.
Seymour an Introduction propels us 17 years forward into 1959 and is also narrated by Buddy Glass. This time, however, Buddy speaks directly to the reader, and his growth is revealed with regards to his knowledge of education, literature, philosophy and religion, but reveals a lack of emotional growth.
Buddy now lives alone and is a university professor. He shares more Glass family memories and a more in depth view of brother, Seymour. We quickly catch on that his condescensions serve as his armor for deflecting the still present pain at losing his brother to suicide. Buddy wonders as does the reader at a life had Seymour remained a part of it.
Now more a part of the story, Seymour Glass is that enigmatic man who attracts admiration and reverence by merely being himself. His genius is evident when it is learned that he was a college professor at age 19, but other behaviors reveal a mind in chaos; insomnia, manic rantings, etc.
Salinger managed to show how men can age, but not grow and did so cleverly through the eyes of Buddy at age 23 and then at age 40. Sounds like survivor’s guilt at work…
Ironically, Salinger was known for his reclusiveness so getting him to join me for lunch could pose a problem. He actually made fun of this in the second novella so I’m sure he has expertise in dealing with trespassers. My approach would be to get him out of his comfort zone and somehow have him suggest a little tete-a-tete. How I’d love to ask about his ability at capturing perspectives of varying ages and marvelous storytelling.
My rating for Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction is a 9 out of 10.
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