Salinger Revisited: Down at the Dinghy

TheIMG 1414 first Glass family story without a Glass fatality. I found Salinger’s use of indirect storytelling reasonably effective here. Even though we’re never in the point of view of Lionel, we still manage to get a sense of the world through his eyes. The opening section of the novel, a conversation between two of the servants in the Tannenbaum household tells us a lot about Lionel without the reader even knowing who Sandra and Mrs Snell are discussing (I can imagine this being a source of great criticism if this story were introduced in a typical fiction workshop). 

It seems that there’s a lot of structural parallelism with “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” with the story beginning with a conversation between two characters (who disappear from the story later) about the protagonist before introducing a third character who will actually interact with the protagonist. In this instance, we have Lionel Tannenbaum standing in for Seymour Glass and Seymour’s sister Boo Boo standing in for the precocious Sybil Carpenter. Of course here, the roles of wise elder and precocious youngster have been reversed. The central concern of the protagonist here becomes more specific from the shallowness of the majority of people in “Bananafish” to Lionel’s sensitivity towards insults, in particular the fact that one of the maids called Lionel’s father a “big, sloppy kike” a phrase that Lionel doesn’t understand, but knows that it is derogatory. It’s possible to see Salinger incorporating ideas he learned from writing both “A Perfect Day for Bananfish” and “The Laughing Man” in this piece as his skills become still more polished.

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