Trauma, Perpetual Adolescence, the Moneyed Person’s Whims

Nathan Heller, writing in “Slate”

Nine Stories is a book about war trauma, but in its setting, storylines, and style, it is the most oblique war narrative imaginable. Salinger captured the personal refractions of a national crisis and placed them into the hollowed-out shell of domestic narrative. This was, in many ways, the genesis of the postwar short story.”

Trevor Butterworth notes in Forbes, “If one can measure the weight of last week’s literary deaths in links, the number of encomia on ‘Arts & Letters Daily’ — tribune to a virtual intelligentsia — seem to say it all: J.D. Salinger, 63; Howard Zinn, 7; Louis Auchincloss, 2.”

Gore Vidal famously called Auchincloss the only U.S. novelist “who tells us how our rulers behave in their banks and their boardrooms, their law offices and their clubs. Butterworth argues that the lack of interest in Auchincloss relative to Salinger indicates that “adolescence has revealed itself as the perfect American state of mind — knowledgeable enough to grasp phoniness, wise enough never to grow up. Both Salinger and Zinn, through the very sincerity of their writing, helped to reify adolescence as the dominant worldview, the most powerful mass-culture meme in the past 50 years.”

All three authors fought for the U.S. in World War Two — Salinger was in the Army, Auchincloss in the Navy, Zinn in the Air Force. The comparison Butterworth draws may over-simplify things, since Auchincloss was arguably no less critical of prep school mores than was Holden Caulfield, and as Christopher Caldwell wrote in “The Weekly Standard,” had his own beef with the elder generation —

“A favorite Auchincloss theme is the way those whose lives are already behind them reach out to poison all the sexual, intellectual, idealistic, and even ethical promise of youth — to poison anything inconsistent with dynasty-formation, the moral order, or the moneyed person’s whims, which grow increasingly hard to distinguish.”
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