Thursday, January 28, 2010

Eyes Like Goddamn Seashells: J. D. Salinger on Beauty

    Part of what I like about Salinger's writing are his little remarks about pretty girls.  But when I began to round up those bits to show you, I couldn't help remembering something he wrote, not in a story, but in a letter to a friend. On the marriage of his teen-aged sweetheart, Oona O'Neil, and the much older Charlie Chaplin:

    "I can see them at home in the evenings. Chaplin squatting grey and nude, atop his chiffonier, swinging his thyroid around his bamboo cane, like a dead rat. Oona in an aquamarine gown, applauding madly from the bathroom. Agnes [her mother] in a Jantzen bathing suit, passing between them with cocktails. I'm facetious, but I'm sorry. Sorry for anyone with a profile as young and lovely as Oona's."

At right is the profile in question.  This particular passage came out in court when Salinger sued to stop Ian Hamilton's biography from being published.  Odd that Salinger took issue with the age difference.  But I love that image.  So comic-book macabre.

Anyway, here are some things about pretty girls that Salinger actually wanted us to read, starting with a couple from Catcher In The Rye:

     "I was about half in love with her by the time we sat down.  That's the thing about girls.  Every time they do something pretty... you fall half in love with them, then you never know where the hell you are." 

    "If a girl looks swell when she meets you, who gives a damn if she's late?  Nobody." 

Next, from the story A Perfect Day for Bananafish:
     "She was a girl who for a ringing phone dropped exactly nothing. She looked as if her phone had been ringing continually ever since she had reached puberty.  "

From Franny and Zooey:
     "There were half circles under her eyes, and other, subtler signs that mark an acutely troubled young girl, but nonetheless no one could have missed seeing that she was a first-class beauty. Her skin was lovely, and her features were delicate and most distinctive."

From the story, De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period:
     "I saw her coming to meet me -- near a high, wire fence -- a shy, beautiful girl of eighteen who had not yet taken her final vows and was still free to go out into the world with the Peter Abelard-type man of her choice."
And from the story, Pretty Mouth and Green My Eyes:
     "Christ, it's embarrassing--I start thinking about this goddam poem I sent her when we first started goin' around together. `Rose my color is. and white, Pretty mouth and green my eyes.' Christ, it's embarrassing--it used to remind me of her. She doesn't have green eyes--she has eyes like goddam sea shells, for Chrissake."