Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters. Seymour-An Introduction.

When people find out what a passion I have for Literature I will invariably hear one question come from them. What’s your favourite book? I confess that I have no answer to this. It’s impossible for me to go through the multitude of books I’ve read and pick one singular volume out. What I do have though is a set of favourites, certain books that come to mind when that question is asked. One of these is Catcher in the Rye by J.D.Salinger. This is not a review of Catcher. If I ever grow bold enough to do that it will be in it’s own post and with a lot of care and thought. Recently I started to read more of Salinger’s work and after reading Frannie and Zooey I found a copy of Raise High The Roofbeam, Carpenters-Seymour an Introduction.

A recent review of mine was on Down and out in Paris and London. In it I say that the book is split into two parts and that different people would like the different books. The same is very true with Carpenters/Seymour. The book is narrated by Seymour’s younger brother Buddy. Both of them are members of the same Glass family that gave us Frannie and Zooey who are both mentioned throughout. In the book we read a short story about Seymour’s wedding entitled Raise High The Roofbeam Carpenter. We then go into an introduction to a collection of poems written by Seymour. the collection is being published posthumously after Seymour’s suicide and Buddy is explaining them to the readers.

Carpenters is fantastic. It’s a great short story that has Salinger’s wit and personality flowing throughout it. The characters are reminiscent of the many strange people Holden Caulfield encounters in Catcher and it was with some nostalgia that I encountered Salinger’s commentary on life and humanity once again. In the story Buddy has come to Seymour’s wedding but it seems that Seymour himself hasn’t. In fact none of his family has. Somehow Buddy ends up in a car on the way to the now defunct reception with the Matron of honour to the Jilted Bride, her husband, the bride’s elderly Aunt and her deaf mute great Uncle. With the whole car angry at Seymour and the Glass family Buddy is left in an extremely awkward, and somewhat hysterical, situation. The story works on so many levels and it’s a joy to read. It has elements that remind me of Raymond Carver’s Short Cuts and some parts that could only have come from Salinger.

When I moved on to Seymour-An Introduction I was excited. I’d just read 65 pages of incredible fiction and I was looking forward to reading more. Unfortunately this is not what I found. Seymour is one of the most confused and quite frankly boring things I’ve read in a long time. Considering that in essence it is supposed to be a eulogy I would have thought to found sincere emotion. All I found was High language and a Narrator that couldn’t stick to the point. In some way I was reminded of Holden’s rambling confessions in Catcher but it lacked the humour, pathos and storyline that Holden could place into his words. Any book or story that has me counting down the pages until I finish has gone seriously wrong. Surely I should be disappointed at the end of a book because I want more rather than celebrating the fact that I made it to the end without falling asleep. Actually that happened on more than one occasion.

It was such a shame for the book to be split like this. to go from brilliant and intricate storytelling to crushing boredom so quickly was incredibly disappointing. I think in future I will be fairly careful in selecting one of Salinger’s works to read. I suppose that no author has hit a perfect record. It’s just a little sad to finally find the rotten apple in the otherwise bountiful pile.

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