Essential Reading: J.D. Salinger on Love, Loss, and Summer Camp Romance

In The Laughing Man, a short story by J. D. Salinger, the narrator recalls, with aching particularity, the spring afternoon when he got his first taste of adulthood.

Summer camp used to be simple: a few balls, a bat, and a scrap of empty space were all you really needed. Then someone insisted that she wanted to play too, and it all got really complicated—really fast. In "The Laughing Man," that someone is a beauty of a girl from Long Island who wears a beaver coat and smokes cork-tipped cigarettes. At first, things stay pretty much the same. The Chief (a revered counselor) still drives his school bus full of young Comanches (eager campers) to the park every afternoon to play ball, and recounts for them the epic serial story of the Laughing Man, a hideously disfigured do-gooding superhero. But when the Chief's girl suddenly doesn't want to play anymore, the Laughing Man is made to finally confront his worst enemy. As a result, the Comanche Club changes abruptly—and forever—in a way that only an adult, looking back, can begin to understand.

"But one day as we were on our way to the Park, the Chief pulled the bus over to a curb on Fifth Avenue in the Sixties, a good half mile past our baseball field. Some twenty back-seat drivers at once demanded an explanation, but the Chief gave none. Instead, he simply got into his story-telling position and swung prematurely into a fresh installment of 'The Laughing Man.' He had scarcely begun, however, when someone tapped on the bus door. The Chief's reflexes were geared high that day. He literally flung himself around in his seat, yanked the operating handle of the door, and a girl in a beaver coat climbed into the bus."

Read the full story here.

- Zach Maher

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