Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour an Introduction

Monday, July 9, 2012

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters 
and Seymour an Introduction
by J.D. Salinger

I will readily admit that the reason I waited so long to read this one is because I hated the thought of no longer having a Salinger book to look forward to. I’ve read his other work and while I wasn’t a huge fan of The Catcher in the Rye (no more whining!); I adore his other books, Nine Stories and Franny and Zooey.

I’ve always been fascinated by the fictional Glass family and at least part of the family is featured in both of those books and in Raise High. Salinger has a unique ability to make the mundane interesting. He sucks me in so quickly and the pages fly by. He usually writes about one short period of time, like Holden wandering around New York for a few days in Catcher. Throughout that time we see flashbacks and reference to things that have already happened.

Raise High works in the same way. The story is told from Buddy’s point-of-view. He is the second of seven children in the Glass family. The eldest is the poetic but troubled Seymour. Buddy finds out his older brother is about to get married and the rest of his family can’t make it to the last minute wedding. Buddy manages to get leave from his boot camp to head to New York City for the ceremony. Once he arrives he finds out Seymour has stood up his bride-to-be and Buddy ends up in a limo with the furious Matron-of-Honor and a few other guests of the bride. As the heat rises and a parade halts their progress across the city things become tense.

The other Glass siblings from eldest to youngest are, Boo Boo (girl), the twins Walt and Waker, Zooey (boy) and Franny. They are featured in various stories, but Seymour is the most captivating of the lot. His tale reaches its conclusion in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” one of the chapters in Nine Stories. Seymour is brilliant, but at times he becomes trapped inside his own head in a debilitating way.

Salinger adds small touches to his books that never seem to leave me. I remember reading Zooey for the first time and falling in love with the idea of covering your bedroom walls with quotes. In this book there’s a reference to the family’s tradition of leaving messages with soap slivers on the bathroom mirror as they were growing up. The title of the book actually comes from one such message left by Boo Boo for her brother. It’s a poem, “Raise high the roof beam, carpenters. Like Ares comes the bridegroom, taller far than a tall man.” There’s also a sweet deaf mute man (the bride’s father’s uncle) who felt like he could have been my own family member.

There is something so real about the diary entries Buddy shares from Seymour’s journal. It feels as though we are given a glimpse into the struggle of a person we all might know. His shining optimistic exterior provides a glaze to a tumultuous underbelly of self-doubt and critical thinking which gives him no peace. It’s characters like Seymour, who we never completely know, that make Salinger’s books so captivating.

“God knows it is sad. The human voice conspires to desecrate everything on earth.”

“He would despise her for her marriage motives as I’ve put them down here. But are they despicable? In a way, they must be, but yet they seem to me so human-size and beautiful that I can’t think of them even now as I write this without feeling deeply, deeply moved.”

“Marriage partners are to serve each other. Elevate, help, teach, strengthen each other, but above all, serve. Raise their children honorably, lovingly, and with detachment. A child is a guest in the house, to be loved and respected – never possessed, since he belongs to God.”

Seymour: An Introduction

by J.D. Salinger

These two pieces by Salinger are always published together, but their styles are incredibly different. While Raise High tells us the events of a single day, Seymour is a reflection on one man’s entire life. They pair perfectly, complementing each other and slowly peeling back the layers of both Seymour and Buddy’s lives.

Both pieces are written by Buddy Glass, the second is a reflection of who Seymour was and how his siblings and friends saw him. But because it’s written by Buddy everything is seen through the filter of his eyes and he can’t help but idolize his older brother. Buddy describes every aspect of Seymour, his looks and beliefs and talks about his collected poems, but he can’t separate how he saw his brother and who his brother truly was.

The whole book is just beautiful and it a new favorite. I particularly loved Seymour’s notes and literary criticisms to Buddy. After Buddy would read a new piece he’d written to his brother, Seymour would wait awhile and process what he thought about the work, he would then write him a response. His notes would be both challenging and uplifting. He would encourage Buddy never to settle for being a people-pleasing writer, but instead to write what mattered to him. What wonderful advice for all writers!
“…but the fact that the great Kierkegaard was never a Kierkegaardian, let alone an existentialist, cheers one bush-league intellectual’s heart no end, never fails to reaffirm his faith in a cosmic poetic justice, if not a cosmic Santa Claus.”

BOTTOM LINE: I loved it. Salinger gets inside my head and touches my emotions in a way that few authors can. Don’t judge his work purely by his most famous book. In my opinion his other work far outshines Catcher in the Rye.



Care said...

I sure would have loved to have you to bounce ideas off of when I read Franny and Zooey. I will admit, the characters and that family are fascinating.

Allie said...

I've only ever read The Catcher in the Rye (but I have read a few of his short stories). I have everything he's published on my bookshelf, but just haven't made time to read it all!

Dale said...

I recently read his short story "For Esme- With Love and Squalor". It blew me away! I think you are right. I will have to read more than just The Catcher in the Rye (although I did enjoy that one "back in the day"). Thanks for these recommendations.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Care - That would be such a great book to discuss with a group.

Allie - Maybe try Nine Stories, you could fit just one or two of the stories in when you need a break from one of the giant classics you're in the midst of!

Dale - Yay! That story is in Nine Stories, which I love. I think that for me, Catcher didn't age as well as his other work. I think it's a powerful book for teens, but the angst and discontent doesn't translate as well to adulthood.

Amanda said...

Secret Salinger: Hapworth 16, 1924.

It's a little funky, but well worth it if you can find a copy--it sometimes shows up on the Internets.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Amanda - Must find a copy. Thanks for the tip!