The Glass Family Portrait Album

After the success of “Catcher in the Rye”, J. D. Salinger began writing almost exclusively about a fictional family, the Glass siblings of New York City, from various narrative points of view. The sublime short books “Franny and Zooey” and “Seymour/Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters” were about the Glass children, and Salinger’s most famous short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” tells the chilling tale of Seymour Glass’s suicide in a Florida hotel room. Most of these stories are fractured narratives containing reflections of reflections of the Glass children, usually related in dialogue and allegedly recorded by the mild, stealthy older brother, Buddy Glass.

A few months ago, writer Michael Norris and artist David Richardson began working together on a project to imagine the faces of the Glass family members. This represents a creative first, as far as we know, because no well-known film, play or art project has ever emerged to represent these characters. Michael and David previously illuminated Marcel Proust’s “In Search of Lost Time” for Literary Kicks, and David Richardson drew the cover for “Beats In Time“, the new Literary Kicks Beat Generation anthology..

Zooey Glass

It is his second shave. He will place the razor on the edge of the sink, it will fall into the basin, but with the grace that an inanimate object, a prop, can give to a well directed scene in a comedy of manners. It is a scene every actor longs to play, a scene few will ever play as well as Zooey. He is about to turn toward Bessie, he will ease up on her and look at her with love. He will sit in Seymour and Buddy’s room after he dresses, smoke cigars, read the once white beaver board of world literature quotations, and he will help Franny, and always shine his shoes for Seymour‘s Fat Lady.


Franny Glass

“The Way of the Pilgrim” is in her handbag. She’s done with her second martini. The chicken sandwich she’ll never eat is on it’s way to the table with Lane‘s snails and frog‘s legs. She doesn’t care about the football game, or Lane’s Flaubert, or much of anything, and she knows Lane will never understand the Jesus Prayer. She’s a mess at Sickler’s restaurant, long hours from relief, from finally falling asleep at home on the couch, where she’ll smile at the ceiling after Zooey‘s ersatz Buddy phone call, mesmerized by the beauty of a dial tone.


Bessie Glass

Our Madonna of the East Seventies in her hair net and blue kimono, in her bathroom, levitating on the commode William Shawn imagined but Salinger only implied. She is worried, worried sick about Franny. The smell of her chicken broth floats above the cigarette smoke, the steam of Zooey’s shower and the fumes of paint drying on the apartment walls. She is the mother of seven children, seven half-Irish, half-Jewish children, all genius or near it, all very wise children, two of them already dead, and now her baby has collapsed, come home with a nervous breakdown and she wants to know why. Bessie has concern only for her family, and none that her family will be seen by overwrought critics as Picasso’s Saltimbanques updated, moved to Manhattan, become more successful and more fucked up. But she notices Zooey’s profile as he shaves, and for an instant she’s taken away and about to dance again with her children’s father. The audience grows quiet, she and Les are haloed by flash bulbs, the band strikes up “You Needn’t Be So Mean, Baby”, she is Avalokitasvara on the Great White Way. She will put out her cigarette on the side of the wastebasket, light another as if holding a lotus, cross her legs and carry on.


Seymour Glass

Seymour. Seymour the wisest child. Seymour the poet. Seymour the arhat. Seymour the beloved, the self-inflicted, Seymour who won the race to the drug store, who lectured the family and talked to god. Seymour showing god the cubist portrait Buddy made of him after his perfect day.


Les Glass

Les dressed in the blue serge he bought for Los Angeles and only wore once, ready to go out to Sheepshead Bay for a shore dinner at Lundy’s. Franny is better, he’s happy to hear she might join him and Bessie, a little celebration, it’ll be like old times, and he’s happy to hear a happy song on the radio. Bessie will let it play out before they leave the apartment.


Boo Boo Glass

Lionel is napping. He’s safe, only running away in a dream, a kite pulls the dinghy to the Fortunate Isles. Sandra and Mrs. Snell have gone home, Mr. Tannenbaum is on his way back to Tuckahoe. Boo Boo wonders about firing Sandra, but she knows Seymour would never fire her, he’d just ask her to buy another jar of pickles, then buy the jar himself, which Boo Boo knows she will do all along. And she wonders if she should ask Buddy about Seymour’s poems again.


Walt and Waker Glass

The Twins. Walt just before the stove exploded and all thoughts of ankles disappeared for him but not for Eloise, with Waker years after Waker gave away his bicycle, he’s out of seminary school, about to join the Carthusians and still speaking.


Muriel Glass

Muriel polishing her nails on the window seat as the phone rings.


Buddy Glass

Buddy is reading one of Seymour’s letters, or one of Seymour’s poems, or a page of his own writing, but it’s probably Seymour’s. He’ll keep reading the rest of Seymour‘s papers again until morning. He’ll eventually put all of it, most of it, what we know of it, together. Then he’ll stop forever and cause earnest readers who look for more than haunting stories that reveal the poignant intricacies of his exceptional family to read “Hapworth”, and cause them to wonder if all his words, all their words, were written under the pseudonym J.D. Salinger.

8 Responses

  1. Thanks for all of these art
    Thanks for all of these art pieces about Salinger’s “Glass Family”. I’ve really appreciated the insight into the characters and the pictorials bringing them to “animated life”… Especially, during these Thanksgiving holidays when families often gather & haven’t seen each other for a while…Salinger was especially keen on his family, even though he didn’t see “eye to eye” with some of their needs…

    (Editors, just a note…I noticed that the “Action Poetry” page is “down”–even though the side bar, featuring poems, is still up. At least, the main page is not viewed at the moment…Another thing, the archives need catching up with also. Thanks for your attention to these matters, when time permits…)

  2. I did not relate well to the
    I did not relate well to the Glass family at my first reading. Over the years I tried to revisit these works. Still not touching me. Uptown Manhattanites and their clever devices, whimsical quirks. Thank you for showing me something new folks. The artwork still encourages the imagination; an excellent job.

  3. Thanks to all for your
    Thanks to all for your comments and thoughts, they are greatly appreciated.
    Writing about a sub-species of American life during the last century Salinger reveals truths of the universal human condition with a few perfect words. He encourages the imagination. He also encourages us to question why one writes, why one makes art, and perhaps the most provoking thing I’ve learned from re-reading Salinger are in the words in Zooey he quotes from the Bhagavad Gita:
    Desire for the fruits of the work must never be your motive in working.
    You have no right to the fruits of the work.
    You have the right to work, but for the work’s sake only.
    Never give way to laziness either.

  4. Brilliant realizations! I
    Brilliant realizations! I especially liked the Seymour and Muriel.

    I read the Glass stories when I was a teenager and loved them then. I’m older now and notice Salinger’s faults — he was a pied-piperish crank, not nearly as wise or as decent as I imagined him — but still I have a great affection for the characters and Salinger’s mastery as a writer.

    But boy, if you want to read the great literary train wreck of the 20th century, try Hapworth 16, 1924. Salinger had lost all perspective on his writing and the Glass family.

  5. Such poetry here in this
    Such poetry here in this little chapel. Let US children push for perfection, become detached, then reattached, and so on infinitely. If we look ever-so closely at our own lives- Ugh the only building we’ll ever work on- we’ll see that the church has no steeple, no direction. Every point, in every direction, toward the microscopic fabric, is perfect. Oh, the philosophical despair… Confined to an intelligence debating the sight of Christ against the non-sight of The Buddha… the flaws we see seeking perfection against the perfection we see in flaws. Work on, and raise high the roof beam, you beautiful carpenters (any beams really- Damn it!).

  6. Brilliant I think, a huge fan
    Brilliant I think, a huge fan of this great Idea am I. I have to thank you.

  7. I couldn’t help but notice how the Glass siblings map onto the children of Zeus in Greek mythology.

    Franny is Athena, the Wisest.
    Seymour is Ares, the Warrior.
    Buddy is Hermes, the Messenger.
    Zooey is Apollo, the Artist.
    Boo Boo is Artemis, the Midwife.
    Walter is Dionysus, the Drunkard.
    Waker is Hephaestus, the Weapon Maker.

    I wrote about how I found this connection in a short creative essay available here on Medium:

    *The dog who didn’t speak much*

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