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RAISE HIGH THE ROOF BEAM, CARPENTERS AND SEYMOUR

AN INTRODUCTION

These two long short stories have previously appeared in the New Yorker and both deal with the eldest child and most outstanding member of the remarkable Glass family — Seymour Glass. Raise High...is an account of Seymour's wedding day in 1942, narrated by Buddy Glass. Seymour didn't show up atthe arranged ceremony (and never makes a direct appearance in the story, the action taking place between an embarrassed but loyal Buddy and some wedding guests on the bride's side) -but he later eloped with the anxious bride. Seymour An Introduction is a far more complicated matter (and reveals more of Salinger than many of his readers may like to know.) The central fact about Seymour Glass is that he committed suicide at the age of 31 while on vacation with his wife in Florida. To his six brothers and sisters, all of whom were prodigies themselves, Seymour is practically a Buddha. We learn here, again via Buddy, that he was, besides being an academician, a poet, influenced primarily by Oriental philosophy. Seymour's experiences, beginning at least when he was eight years old, are all essentially religious — whether they take place in the barbershop, in Loew's 72nd St., or shooting marbles. Even his flaws seem perfect and religious. In fact, Seymour Glass is America's most consciously religious fictional character. How to justify his suicide? Some Salinger readers have now taken to raising other objections: the incestuousness and narcissism of the Glass family in general; the fact that Salinger doesn't love everybody, including his phoneys, (though one would think it the writer's privilege, if not obligation, to approve of his characters over some others); etc. etc. J.D. Salinger may be in a trap but, still, he has created real people, (there would be no discussion otherwise). For our part, devotedly, we read on.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 1962

ISBN: 0316766941

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1962

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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HOW THE GARCIA GIRLS LOST THEIR ACCENTS

Told through the points of view of the four Garcia sisters- Carla, Sandi, Yolanda and Sofia-this perceptive first novel by poet Alvarez tells of a wealthy family exiled from the Dominican Republic after a failed coup, and how the daughters come of age, weathering the cultural and class transitions from privileged Dominicans to New York Hispanic immigrants. Brought up under strict social mores, the move to the States provides the girls a welcome escape from the pampered, overbearingly protective society in which they were raised, although subjecting them to other types of discrimination. Each rises to the challenge in her own way, as do their parents, Mami (Laura) and Papi (Carlos). The novel unfolds back through time, a complete picture accruing gradually as a series of stories recounts various incidents, beginning with ``Antojos'' (roughly translated ``cravings''), about Yolanda's return to the island after an absence of five years. Against the advice of her relatives, who fear for the safety of a young woman traveling the countryside alone, Yolanda heads out in a borrowed car in pursuit of some guavas and returns with a renewed understanding of stringent class differences. ``The Kiss,'' one of Sofia's stories, tells how she, married against her father's wishes, tries to keep family ties open by visiting yearly on her father's birthday with her young son. And in ``Trespass,'' Carla finds herself the victim of ignorance and prejudice a year after the Garcias have arrived in America, culminating with a pervert trying to lure her into his car. In perhaps one of the most deft and magical stories, ``Still Lives,'' young Sandi has an extraordinary first art lesson and becomes the inspiration for a statue of the Virgin: ``Dona Charito took the lot of us native children in hand Saturday mornings nine to twelve to put Art into us like Jesus into the heathen.'' The tradition and safety of the Old World are just part of the tradeoff that comes with the freedom and choice in the New. Alvarez manages to bring to attention many of the issues-serious and light-that immigrant families face, portraying them with sensitivity and, at times, an enjoyable, mischievous sense.

Pub Date: May 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-945575-57-2

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1991

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