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Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour – An Introduction (1963) – J D Salinger

May 11, 2012

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters (1955) and Seymour: An Introduction (1959), are a pair of long short stories written by Salinger about the Glass family. The former ostensibly about Buddy Glass, and the latter about Seymour Glass, but quite often it appears that the opposite is true. Although, really, both stories are about the relationship between the two brothers, Buddy and Seymour, or more precisely, Buddy’s recollections of their relationship.

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, follows Buddy to New York in 1942, where he is taking leave from the army to attend Seymour’s wedding to Muriel. He arrives just in time to discover that Seymour has not turned up, and somehow manages to end up in a car with the Matron of Honor (sic), her husband the Lieutenant, Muriel’s Aunt Mrs. Silsburn, and Muriel’s deaf-mute great-uncle. The topic of conversation rarely strays from Seymour and his deficiencies. Unsurprisingly, Buddy is reluctant to reveal his own identity.

This first story is fairly typical of Salinger’s work, particularly his Glass family saga, in that it is tightly written, unfolds over a short space of time, and consists of human interactions (with a playwright’s ear for dialogue.) The second story, Seymour: An Introduction, on the other hand, is quite a departure; it takes the form of a stream of consciousness portrait of Seymour by his brother Buddy.

The formal elements of this second story are what surprise the most. It is, at least seemingly, self indulgent with paragraphs that last for several pages, and has an overuse of parenthesis, italics, foot-notes, and out of place capitalization. I say seemingly, because, is the self indulgence Salinger’s or Buddy’s? Is it not just Salinger’s portrait of Buddy’s (mid-life crisis induced?) self indulgence? Of course, Salinger chose to write the story, so one could easily argue either way.

Nevertheless, both stories are interesting, although I, personally, prefer Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, but having said that, I can’t help but be intrigued by Seymour: An Introduction. Its diary-like informality really makes one feel like one is witness to a truly personal and intimate portrait of, not the titular Seymour, but the author himself, Buddy, or perhaps, even Salinger himself. One comes away from the story with a picture of a lonely 40 year-old man who desperately misses his brother, a person that he not only shared his early life with, but whom he continues to measure it against.

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