‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ by JD Salinger

‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ by JD Salinger portrays a certain, quintessential 1950’s summer’s day: stifling Florida heat, a chic beachside hotel, a woman in a silk dressing-gown paints her nails, waiting for a long-distance New York call. A gossiping mother spreads sun cream lotion on her daughter’s back. Bathrobes are removed, martini’s drunk. It is “the perfect day for banana fish,” the main character Seymour informs a little girl, while they play in the waves. Yet, everyone talks, but no one is listening. Freud’s Unheimlich, the uncanny, permeates every page. Layers of chit-chat about sunburn, cruises and green dinner dresses, barely cover the sense of impending doom. Seymour, the main character, has just been released from military hospital with post-war trauma, he seems to be losing his mind. The familiar becomes unsettling, the banana fish disturbing. Something is deeply wrong. I first read this story over 25 years ago, and this terrible feeling of strangeness has stayed with me, a Hitchcockian atmosphere captures glimpses into the double of this perfect summer beach day, what is not quite there, what has been there: death, folly, greed and war.

First published in The New Yorker, January 1948, and available online here. Collected in Nine Stories, Little, Brown, 1953. Picked by Susanna Crossman, who is an Anglo-French writer. She has recent/upcoming work in Neue Rundschau (S. Fischer), We’ll Never Have Paris (Repeater Books), Berfrois and The Lonely Crowd. She regularly collaborates on international hybrid arts projects. Currently, she is showing the multi-lingual prose film, 360° of Morning, with screenings and events across Europe and USA. @crossmansusanna

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