28 April 2010

The Superlative Animal

I've recently re-read J.D. Salinger's Raise High the Roofbeam, Carpenters, and have remembered my love for it. It's truly one of my favorite novellas (along with the other related stories revolving around the Glass family—Seymour: An Introduction; Franny and Zooey; and Nine Stories. Catcher in the Rye doesn't do it for me, however; Holden Caulfield is an annoying pric).

The title of this story comes from Sappho's fragment 88, which the narrator's sister, Boo Boo, scrawls on the bathroom mirror with a sliver of soap (in light of her other brother's forthcoming marriage):  

Raise high the roof beams, Carpenters!
Like Ares comes the bridegroom!
Taller than all tall men!

Since there already exists a good many synopses of
Raise High (see this post, for example), all I'd like to do here is share a few quotes from it that have stuck with me over the years. I realize that taken out of context, and without a love (or hatred) for the character's speaking them, these words might simply fall flat. Still, I think there's some appreciation to be had, at least with respect to their sound and sense:

Beyond the fact that it was jam-packed and stifling hot, I can remember only two things: there was an organ playing almost directly behind me, and that the woman in the seat directly at my right turned to me and enthusiastically stage-whispered, "I'm Helen Sisburn!"
The June sun was so hot and so glaring, of such multi-flashbulb-like mediacy, that the image of the bride, as she made her almost invalided way down the stone steps, tended to blur where blurring mattered most.
The Matron of Honor stared at me, openly, for a moment—and not really rudely, for a change, unless child's stares are rude.
If he never wrote a line of poetry, he could still flash what he had at you with the back of his ear if he wanted to.
His face was in the ferocious repose that had fooled me during most of the car ride, but as he came closer to us in the hall, the mask reversed itself; he pantomimed to us both the very highest salutations and greetings, and I found myself grinning and nodding immoderately in return. His sparse white hair looked freshly combed—almost freshly washed, as though he might have discovered a tiny barbershop cached away at the other end of the apartment. When he'd passed us, I felt a compulsion to look back over my shoulder, and when I did, he waved to me, vigorously—a great, bon-voyage, come-back-soon wave. It picked me up no end. "What is he? Crazy?" the matron of Honor said. I said I hoped so, and opened the door of the bedroom.
I felt awe and happiness. How I love and need her undiscriminating heart.
I said (sententiously?) that God undoubtedly loves kittens, but not, in all probability, with Technicolor bootees on their paws. He leaves that creative touch to script writers. …She sat stirring her drink and feeling unclose to me. She worries over the way her love for me comes and goes, appears and disappears. She doubts its reality simply because it isn't as steadily pleasurable as a kitten. God knows it is sad. The human voice conspires to desecrate everything on earth.
But on the whole I don't make her really happy. Oh, God, help me. My one terrible consolation is that my beloved has an undying, basically undeviating love for the institution of marriage itself. She has a primal urge to play house permamently. Her marital goals are so absurd and touching. She wants to get a very dark sun tan and go up to the desk clerk in some very posh hotel and ask if her Husband has picked up the mail yet. She wants to shop for curtains. She wants to shop for maternity clothes.  …She wants children—good-looking children, with her features, not mine. I have a feeling, too, that she wants her own Christmas-tree ornaments to unbox annually, not her mother's.
He also had the impression that I'd said [the Gettysburg Address] was a dishonest speech. I told him I'd said that 51,112 men were casualties at Gettysburg, and that if someone had to speak at the anniversary of the event, he should simply have come forward and shaken his fist at his audience and then walked off—that is, if the speaker was an absolutely honest man.
Oh God, if I'm anything by a clinical name, I'm kind of a paranoic in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy.
Her voice sounded strangely levelled off, stripped of even the ghost of italics.
I could go on and on, of course, but I hope you enjoyed these (often enigmatic) selections. There's an honesty to Salinger, wrought on the lips of the narrator, Buddy Glass, that ought not go overlooked for long. Tolle lege.


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