Once I had an argument with two guys in a bar (I know, right?). One of them contended that “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J. D. Salinger was the best short story ever written in English. Another suggested the true answer was, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” by Earnest Hemingway. I, of course, knew that the answer was “The Dead” by James Joyce, though after I read the Hemingway I was willing to admit it to second place.
Today I sat down and read “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” because I felt like reading some Salinger and I don’t currently own a copy of A Catcher in the Rye. It’s a really good short story, definitely solid enough for third place. It made me think about how all three of these great works of fiction are centered around death. There are plenty of short stories and novels about love, but it seems like only through looking at death do we really create literature that examines The Human Condition.
It’s a theory, anyway. (Most of my favorite books have both love and death in them – Ulysses, The Great Gatsby…)
Salinger was 91 so this isn’t exactly a surprise. Whether he has a closet full of unpublished novels or not, I wish him the best. He was a guy who really liked to write, and I can respect that.