The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hapworth 16, 1924

By Anne Chudobiak

I recently found myself in the strange position of having nothing to do. My desk was clear. Everything was in its rightful place. I didn’t have to sift through piles of paper looking for my set of New Yorker DVDs. It was finally time to see what kind of world it was that I’d been born into. I inserted Disc 3 (1974-1983) into my computer.

I had some stipulations, though. No fiction, unless I knew it was going to be good, with the exception even then of Mavis Gallant. I’d overdosed on her on the beach this summer.

The first article I stumbled upon looked interesting. It was about Montreal, a woman remembering. Oh, wait, that had to be Mavis. Of course, it was: a Linnet Muir story. Imagine having such a distinctive voice that it gave you away within the space of a paragraph? No byline necessary, not even some thirty years later.

All the same, I was in no mood. I didn’t read it. Instead, I ejected Disc 3 and went to my bookshelf. I’d been meaning to re-read "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." Every now and then, I have to justify to myself why it was okay for me to name my son after the suicidal Seymour Glass. Do parents of modern-day Juliets do the same? If so, they are welcome to borrow my argument (although they might have to tweak it a little), which is that suicide does not seem to be the defining fact of Seymour’s life. The scene that sticks with us is of him on the beach, kissing little Sybil Carpenter’s feet. This was a man with enormous goodwill, who couldn’t express it in a way that others could understand. Or that’s what I used to think. I mean, why exactly did he have to shoot himself in front of his napping wife?

The truth is that I haven’t read all of the Seymour stories. There is at least one, from 1965, that never made it into book form. It apparently used to be extremely difficult for fans to get their hands on Salinger’s many uncollected works. But not in the age of the Internet. “Young Folks,” “The Heart of a Broken Story,” “This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise”: some brave soul has posted them all online (Salinger is famously savage about privacy and copyright). And the final Seymour story, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” is archived on New Yorker Disc 4 (1965-1973). I printed it out last night, all eighty pages. It’s as complicated as it’s long. I’m slowly making my way though it, trying to determine if the first-person narrator, seven-year-old Seymour Glass, exiled at summer camp, is indeed a good person. I’m still leaning towards yes. To quote him: “As you damned well know, we never change much in our hearts.”


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Thanks for the link, Anne. I've read very little of Salinger. It will be a treat to indulge myself one day (soon, before Salinger issues a cease and desist) and to discover the character your son's name honours.

Tue Dec 18, 03:27:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

I blame TV, that's why I don't have the New Yorker archived on DVD.

Tue Dec 18, 04:07:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Anne C. said...

I should have put a spoiler alert. I'm sorry!

Tue Dec 18, 06:14:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Don't worry on my account. I can watch an episode of Inspector Morse a jillion times and still not remember whodunit.

Tue Dec 18, 06:43:00 pm GMT-5  
Blogger T. Lee said...

Hot damn, thanks for the link. I'd wondered about your son's name.

Thu Dec 20, 02:51:00 pm GMT-5  
Anonymous Violet said...

As a devotee of the Glass family stories, I can never figure out whether this last effort is meant to shatter the myth and expose the family's delusions, whether Salinger is satirising himself or if he just totally lost it and wrote a terribly bad story because he believed his own press too much.

Sat Oct 18, 03:37:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Bill said...

I think it's an amazing story, wish I'd read this one first as an introduction to Salinger.

Actually , it sheds light upon my upbringing. When I was more or less Seymour's age I was taken to a summer camp and given pretty much free rein since I was officially too young for the program. My imagination created gigantic arcs through space and time , though my visions were more technological than literary. Curiously , the technology seemed compatible with a 1924 state of the industry. I'm fairly sure that the story had alot of influence on my situation since my father was way into Salinger.

(hope this isn't the vicarious sort of post which puts gentle readers off their tea biscuits...)

Mon Jan 05, 05:04:00 pm GMT-5  

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