Book Review: Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction by J. D. Salinger

Let me start by saying this: it should not have taken me as long as it did to finish this book. It seems like recently, every time I get close to finishing a book, things will keep happening to prevent me from finishing it. However, life finally worked out today so that I could finish this one. This is only the second Salinger book I’ve read (I know, I’m soo late to this bandwagon), but it was every bit as interesting and deep as Franny and Zooey. I made a previous post when I finished the first novella (Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters), so this review will focus mainly on Seymour: an Introduction and touch on the effect of the two stories being combined into a single volume.

The narrator of Seymour: an Introduction is Buddy Glass, the oldest living child of the Glass family, a completely fictional family who populate several of Salinger’s short stories and novellas. The title character is Buddy’s deceased older brother. Buddy is now in his forties, and a fairly successful author and professor. It has been approximately eleven years since Seymour’s death. Buddy directly narrates the entirety of Seymour: an Introduction, speaking candidly to the reader the entire time despite his attempts in previous stories (including Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters) to keep himself out of the way of the story. This one is more personal than any other story, as Buddy explains early in the work. He tells that Seymour once told him the best thing he could write is the thing that he most wants to read; what Buddy now would most like to read is a description of Seymour.

Put simply, Seymour: an Introduction is a collection of anecdotes from Seymour and Buddy’s childhood. It is interspersed with moments of fixation on Seymour’s physical qualities, such as his hair, eyes, and ability to dance and play sports. If you haven’t read any of Salinger’s other short stories or novellas about the Glass family, I would not recommend starting here. While I am happy to learn more about Seymour the way I enjoy getting to know a new friend, there were times while reading that I wondered “is there anything Seymour isn’t either the best at or endearingly oblivious to his inability at?” Seymour is good at basically everything he puts his hand or mind to, excepting some sports. However, I believe that my annoyance with his near-perfection would not have existed had I read the book in less time, and not had to re-read portions multiple times in order to figure out exactly where I stopped (seriously, one of the few qualms I have with Salinger’s writing is his lack of paragraph breaks. I could see this as encouragement to read the whole thing in a single setting, but that wasn’t possible for me, and some days I think I spent just as much time finding where I left off as I spent actually reading).

In describing Seymour’s character, Salinger invites the reader to consider much more than just his surface-lever description. Unfortunately, exactly what he is getting at is less clear to me in this story as compared to the others I have read. To be completely honest, I’m still trying to figure out what his point is. However, I have come away with more trails to follow for the research I am conducting surrounding Salinger’s short stories and his views on existentialism. Additionally, I realized too late that these stories are chronologically the last of the Glass family stories. I’m hopeful that Seymour will make more sense once I have read the stories that contain previous events.

I love books that make me look things up, use words I’m not completely sure of their meaning, and talk (directly or indirectly) about deeply important topics. Salinger accomplishes all of these here. I thoroughly enjoyed both stories. However, as wonderful as I find the stories, I cannot recommend this book to just anyone. If you are intrigued by this book, I would suggest reading Salinger’s Franny and Zooey first, to get a taste of his style, the family background, and a general understanding of the characters involved before tackling Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: an Introduction. Even though I am coming away from this with more questions and an incomplete view of what Salinger (or possibly Buddy Glass?) really wants the reader to get, I still see great value in reading this, and I am hopeful that I will at least come closer to figuring out both Seymour and Salinger as I read more and think more. Buddy and his family touch on everything from metaphysics to vaudeville, showing that incredible things can come from the most unexpected places, and that often there is more to life than meets the eye.

Ultimately, this book just fueled my growing love for Salinger. Seymour lived in poetry, and Buddy’s prose effectively communicates the depth and meaning of this alongside the issues it caused. All of this adds up to the totality of Seymour’s character, but it also subtly draws out some of the big questions of life. My (extremely humbly stated) rating is four out of five stars, mainly for the readability factor.

As always, I’d love to hear from others who have read this book or something similar! Feel free to comment whether you think my evaluation is fair, if I left out something that stuck out to you as important, or anything else regarding the book that you would like to talk about.

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