‘The Laughing Man’ by JD Salinger

Many if not all of the stories I’ve chosen for this list are themselves about stories and storytelling, and the way in which such things operate within a person’s life. The young protagonist of ‘The Laughing Man’ is a nine-year-old member of an informal group called the Comanche Club, which meets every schoolday afternoon to play various sports under the watchful eye of their leader, the 22 or 23-year old law student The Chief. After each session, The Chief tells a long, improvised adventure story called The Laughing Man. (The transformation of The Laughing Man, and of The Chief, and of the protagonist, is what’s happening in the story, and all are woven together). I can’t imagine a more perfect argument for why stories matter than this story, this part especially: “It was a story that tended to sprawl all over the place, and yet it remained essentially portable. You could always take it home with you and reflect on it while sitting, say, in the outgoing water in the bathtub.”

Originally published in The New Yorker, March 1949, and included in Nine Stories, Little, Brown, 1953

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