Remembering J. D. Salinger
J. D. Salinger passed away January 27, 2010; he was 91. The famously-secretive author rose to prominence in the 1950’s for The Catcher in the Rye, a book that has resonated with every generation of youth since. He is more celebrated in literary circles for his shorter stories, many of which centered on the Glass and Caulfield families and explored deeper religious and philosophical territory than his sole novel.
The special place awarded him in the world of American literature was shunned by Salinger. He never wanted to be troubled at all, in fact, hiding from the world with a vigor that goes beyond mere reclusiveness. His few public statements make it clear that he wanted to be left alone, focused only on the few people he brought into his life. He allowed that his published works would be absorbed by readers, but he never wanted the scalpels of criticism and devotion that followed.
J. D. Saliner spent the last 50 years literally telling the world to leave him alone, but his death is likely to cause his life to be thrust into the spotlight again. We will hear stories of his unsavory relationships and his extreme idiosyncrasies repeated, elaborated, and unveiled anew. Family and friends have not always bowed to his wishes for privacy, but this wave of exposure will be unlikely to dim the devotion of his admirers.
With just one novel and three short story collections in print, it is surprising to discover that Salinger was not much more prolific than this. A total of 22 other short stories were published and never made it into popular books, but not much more work is known. Rumors claim that he continued writing over his later decades, and his representatives admitted as much in a court deposition in the 1980’s, but this work has never been exposed. His last magazine story, Hapworth 16, 1924, was to become a book in 2008 but even this never appeared.
What will become of these “under-published” and unpublished stories? The Salinger estate could certainly publish them at any time, but this seems unlikely. The most probably course is a flood of biography followed by a collection of the published books, perhaps with Hapworth added. We might see the uncollected stories appear as well, but the unknown writing will likely remain under wraps for decades; one rumor suggests a 40-year wait.
Though I have long worked to expose the published works of J. D. Salinger, I have always resisted focusing too much on the man himself. I do not wish to promote idolatry in general, and Salinger-worship in particular, and his death does nothing to change that. He wrote powerful realist American fiction and added new dimensions to the short story genre. I believe that alone is remembrance enough.
Instead of gossip or garment rending, I urge readers to focus on the works of fiction left behind. I am embarking on a personal journey to reread and rediscover the writing of J. D. Salinger, and urge any reading this to do the same. I will began with his first published piece, 1940’s The Young Folks, and progressed from there.
If you would like to join me on this journey, I suggest visiting a well-stocked library and unearthing The Young Folks for yourself. It is in the March/April 1940 issue of Story magazine. A Google search might work as well, but I do not condone copyright infringement.