Short story: “Down at the Dinghy”

by look i have opinions

“Down at the Dinghy,” by J. D. Salinger

First appeared in the April 1949 issue of Harper’s (subscribers can read here); also here

3,547 words

I like this story but I don’t have much to say about it.

Why does Boo Boo “put a wild hand inside the seat of [her son’s] trousers”? I like to think it’s just something she’s done to her husband in moments of great love and relief and confusion, and the gesture reappears spontaneously. Or possibly that’s the kind of thing a mother naturally does to a child who’s barely out of diapers—feeling to make sure he’s all right. I don’t think this gesture of Boo Boo’s is crucial to the story; I think it’s just part of Salinger’s standard emotional vocabulary, where sexual impulses and family feeling and veneration of innocence are all strangely mixed. There are similar things elsewhere in his fiction, like Holden pinching his sister’s backside and Seymour kissing a little girl’s foot: small, spontaneous, affectionate gestures whose possible erotic connotations are kept as innocent as possible. This example is unusual only in that it’s Boo Boo, not the author/narrator, who keeps the scene innocent by “decorously” tucking in Lionel’s shirt.