January 28, 2010


'Catcher in the Rye' Author J.D. Salinger Dies: J.D. Salinger, author of 'Catcher in the Rye,' dies at age 91 (HILLEL ITALIE, 1/28/10, The Associated Press)

Salinger's other books don't equal the influence or sales of "Catcher," but they are still read, again and again, with great affection and intensity. Critics, at least briefly, rated Salinger as a more accomplished and daring short story writer than John Cheever.

The collection "Nine Stories" features the classic "A Perfect Day for Bananafish," the deadpan account of a suicidal Army veteran and the little girl he hopes, in vain, will save him. The novel "Franny and Zooey," like "Catcher," is a youthful, obsessively articulated quest for redemption, featuring a memorable argument between Zooey and his mother as he attempts to read in the bathtub.

"Catcher," narrated from a mental facility, begins with Holden recalling his expulsion from a Pennsylvania boarding school for failing four classes and for general apathy.

He returns home to Manhattan, where his wanderings take him everywhere from a Times Square hotel to a rainy carousel ride with his kid sister, Phoebe, in Central Park. He decides he wants to escape to a cabin out West, but scorns questions about his future as just so much phoniness.

"I mean how do you know what you're going to do till you do it?" he reasons. "The answer is, you don't. I think I am, but how do I know? I swear it's a stupid question."

"The Catcher in the Rye" became both required and restricted reading, periodically banned by a school board or challenged by parents worried by its frank language and the irresistible chip on Holden's shoulder.

"I'm aware that a number of my friends will be saddened, or shocked, or shocked-saddened, over some of the chapters of `The Catcher in the Rye.' Some of my best friends are children. In fact, all of my best friends are children," Salinger wrote in 1955, in a short note for "20th Century Authors."

"It's almost unbearable to me to realize that my book will be kept on a shelf out of their reach," he added.

...but have you ever read Franny & Zooey?

-SHORT STORY: This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise: Meet Holden Caulfield's brother in this pre-Catcher in the Rye short story from a 26-year-old Salinger writing for Esquire while at war (J.D. Salinger, October 1945, Esquire)
-SHORT STORY: The Heart of a Broken Story: The late author's first short story for Esquire — written at age 22: The only real difficulty in concocting a boy-meets-girl story is that, somehow, he must. (J.D. Salinger, Septe,mber 1941, Esquire)

J. D. Salinger, Enigmatic Author, Dies at 91 (CHARLES McGRATH, 1/28/10, NY Times)

With its cynical, slangy vernacular voice (Holden’s two favorite expressions are “phony” and “goddam”), its sympathetic understanding of adolescence and its fierce if alienated sense of morality and distrust of the adult world, the novel struck a nerve in cold war America and quickly attained cult status, especially among the young. Reading “Catcher” used to be an essential rite of passage, almost as important as getting your learner’s permit.

The novel’s allure persists to this day, even if some of Holden’s preoccupations now seem a bit dated, and it continues to sell tens of thousands of copies a year in paperback. Mark David Chapman, who assassinated John Lennon in 1980, even said that the explanation for his act could be found in the pages of “The Catcher in the Rye.” In 1974 Philip Roth wrote, “The response of college students to the work of J. D. Salinger indicates that he, more than anyone else, has not turned his back on the times but, instead, has managed to put his finger on whatever struggle of significance is going on today between self and culture.”

Many critics admired even more “Nine Stories,” which came out in 1953 and helped shape later writers like Mr. Roth, John Updike and Harold Brodkey. The stories were remarkable for their sharp social observation, their pitch-perfect dialogue (Mr. Salinger, who used italics almost as a form of musical notation, was a master not of literary speech but of speech as people actually spoke it), and for the way they demolished whatever was left of the traditional architecture of the short story — the old structure of beginning, middle, end — in favor of an architecture of emotion, in which a story could turn on a tiny alteration of mood or irony. Mr. Updike said he admired “that open-ended Zen quality they have, the way they don’t snap shut.”

Mr. Salinger also perfected the great trick of literary irony — of validating what you mean by saying less than, or even the opposite of, what you intend. Orville Prescott wrote in The Times in 1963: “Rarely if ever in literary history has a handful of stories aroused so much discussion, controversy, praise, denunciation, mystification and interpretation.”

As a young man, Mr. Salinger yearned ardently for just this kind of attention. He bragged in college about his literary talent and ambitions, and wrote swaggering letters to Whit Burnett, the editor of Story magazine. But success, once it arrived, paled quickly for him. He told the editors of Saturday Review that he was “good and sick” of seeing his photograph on the dust jacket of “The Catcher in the Rye” and demanded that it be removed from subsequent editions. He ordered his agent to burn any fan mail.

In 1953 Mr. Salinger, who had been living on East 57th Street in Manhattan, fled the literary world altogether and moved to a 90-acre compound on a wooded hillside in Cornish, N.H. He seemed to be fulfilling Holden’s desire to build himself “a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made and live there for the rest of my life,” away from “any goddam stupid conversation with anybody.”

-ARCHIVES: J.D. Salinger, RIP: Stories on the late, great writer from the Slate archives (Slate, Jan. 28, 2010)
-ESSAY: Catcher in the Rye author JD Salinger would not be caught in the public eye: Writer whose seminal work still sells 200,000 copies a year withdrew from public life in the 1960s (Richard Lea, 1/28/10, guardian.co.uk)
By the beginning of the 1960s the American press began to see Salinger's refusal to engage with the public as a provocation, while critics became increasingly impatient with the spiritual worries of the Glass family. The appearance of Franny and Zooey between hard covers in 1961 brought negative reviews from critics including John Updike, who judged that Salinger loved the Glasses "too exclusively ... to the detriment of artistic moderation". Meanwhile Time magazine dispatched a posse of reporters to unravel the mysteries of "a private world of love and death", but revealed little from behind the defensive wall of his family and friends, who protected him "like Swiss pikemen". In 1965 the New Yorker published his final story, a letter sent from summer camp by the seven-year-old Seymour Glass entitled Hapworth 16, 1924, and Salinger completed his withdrawal from public life.

For the next four decades Salinger spoke almost exclusively through his lawyers, defending his body of published work from unauthorised publication and adaptations. He gave his final interview to the New York Times in 1974, after launching a suit against a pirate edition of his early stories, describing publishing as "a terrible invasion of my privacy". "I like to write," he said. "I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure." Another lawsuit obliged Ian Hamilton to rewrite large sections of an unauthorised biography published in 1988 – the supreme court ruled that quotations from Salinger's letters infringed his copyright.

Cracks in the wall of silence that his friends, neighbours and family had built around him began to appear in 1999 when a former lover, Joyce Maynard, published a memoir of an affair she had with Salinger in 1972. But it was only a year later that Salinger's daughter published a memoir of her own that described an atmosphere of suspicion and paranoia, with the author in thrall to a succession of unusual diets and religions as he continued adding to the piles of colour-coded manuscripts waiting for publication. It was an account rejected by her brother, who wrote of his "troubled" sister's propensity to tell "gothic tales of our supposed childhood" and declared that he "grew up in a very different house".

Salinger was only too aware how his desire for privacy created an appetite for that privacy to be breached, telling the New York Times in 1974 that the attention he received was "intrusive".

"I pay for this kind of attitude," he said. "I'm known as a strange, aloof kind of man. But all I'm doing is trying to protect myself and my work."

-AUDIO: Such a Perfect Day (Peter Oberg, 1/28/10, Wolfgang's Vault)

I was glad last week to see this song pop up and even happier today to realize the synchronicity of its release. Here’s what Samantha has to say about the song:

this song is based on my interpretation of the story “a perfect day for bananafish” by JD Salinger….a friend of mine from nashville was originally going to do a compilation album of 9 different songwriters writing a song for each of JD Salingers Nine Stories…this was the song i wrote for the album which never materialized so we decided to start playing it live and then recorded
it for the album…

As I’ve always imagined him, Salinger would be the first to admit that today was indeed the perfect day for dying.

-AN APPRECIATION: J.D. Salinger: a gift of words and silence: In his greatest works, a clash between self-expression and self-effacement. (David L. Ulin, January 29, 2010, LA Times)
-TRIBUTE: Salinger's Genius: He was the great poet of post-traumatic stress. (Stephen Metcalf, Jan. 28, 2010, Slate)
-ESSAY: JD Salinger's 'last words to the media': Tom Leonard recalls visiting JD Salinger in New Hampshire last year and hearing what were likely his last words to the media. (Tom Leonard, 28 Jan 2010, Daily Telegraph)

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 28, 2010 1:33 PM
blog comments powered by Disqus