J.D. Salinger's friends recount tales of his life, proving that he was anything but a recluse.
To some people, such as City Weekly's own Stephen Dark, J.D. Salinger had a seemingly huge impact on their teenage lives, especially with Catcher in the Rye. The book did not have that same impact on me, but it was possibly because although I didn't really enjoy high school, I survived my teenage years with only a normal amount of angst and minimal heartbreak. Also, even though I went to school with students that were eerily similar to the classmates Holden despised, I never felt violent towards any of them.
Probably the main reason it didn't completely connect with me as a disenchanted teenager was that it's heart is in New York City, and I lived in the polar opposite, Mt. Pleasant, Utah. Holden escaped as any city kid does (still) by finding dark corners in the thriving urbanity to hide. My escapes were wide-open country highways and mountain hiking trails, the places where not only could I hide from people, there were no people. Because of that, I found my literary guides to angst in On The Road and The Razor's Edge.
Still, when I read Catcher in high school, I knew I was in the presence of genius. That opinion has not wavered in subsequent readings. It is a perfect work of fiction, and for me is only rivaled by only a few other books as the Great American Novel. One of the aspects that makes it classic is that it reflects very specific time and place, but it also can represent any time and place.
As is well-known by now, Salinger died Wednesday after decades essentially hiding from his public fame. With his death, however, his friends are willing to step forward and talk about how he actually lived, which had very little to do with recluse. He avoided publicity, not public. He also continued to write on, apparently, an almost daily basis, and he did it because he loved the written word, not the published word. It's an interesting thought, really:To be successful at something you enjoy for your entire life, you almost have to keep it private.
Among the many stories out there, the three best I've read so far about Salinger popped up yesterday afternoon on The New Yorker's website, in their "Talk of the Town" section. Lillian Ross writes about how deeply Salinger loved children. John Seabrook recounts his first encounter with "Jerry," as his friends called him, at a movie night at Salinger's house. And critic Adam Gopnik talks about Salinger the writer that few people knew.
So, read those on this snowy Sunday morning, and then go find some of your old Salinger.