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Thursday, January 28, 2010

For Salinger, with Love and Squalor

I crossposted a piece this morning at both of the group blogs for which I write, Women on and The Blue Voice, on the death last night of Howard Zinn. When I had finished writing that post, I discovered that J.D. Salinger, another writer who had greatly influenced my (very) young life, had died today. If you are anywhere near my age, you probably read Catcher In The Rye at an important moment in your adolescent life, and chances are it had a lasting effect on your teenage years, even into young adulthood. It was published in 1951, when I was only eight. But I read it the summer I was fifteen, read it in secret at night, against my mother's express injunction against it even coming into the house. I read it with passion and the joy of discovery - the discovery that there were others out there in the greater world as rebellious and alienated as I felt myself to be.

In school we were reading The Scarlet Letter, Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and other such Masterpiece Theatre classics - Reading Salinger was falling into a book that actually spoke the authentic language of my teenage anger and confusion. It had a huge effect on me. I copied out whole chunks of Holden's stream of consciousness into my diary, identifying completely with Holden and his lonely struggle against the phoniness of the world around him.

In college I went on to read the two novels that feature the Glass family, Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenter, and Seymour, as well as Franny and Zooey and Nine Stories - falling in love with Salinger's manipulation of the short story form. I practically memorized the story For Esmé with Love and Squalor, and discover that I still retain many of the lines. I wrote many stories during those years, trying to copy Salinger's style and manner, and of course failing miserably. Salinger went into seclusion in his New Hampshire home after writing these books, though he often claimed he continued to write, strictly for his own needs and pleasure.

I am now sixty six years old, long past my years of teenage angst and confusion (not that I don't have plenty of angst, not to mention confusion, but it's way different now) but if the rumor is true that there are fifteen books written during his years as a recluse locked in a safe in Salinger's house - I have to hope that his agent will find them and get them published. It's interesting to speculate on what they might be like, what Salinger became in those lonely New Hampshire winters, where he journeyed in his strange and wonderful mind. At the library today, I looked for any of Salinger's works, but found none on the shelves. When I asked about this, the librarian told me they had all been checked out today.

1 comment:

Aine Butler-Smith said...

I know, I would love to read his thoughts in his years of seclusion and on more current observations of our society and culture. There's really not much to add past what he shared in Catcher, only shared from a different perspective.

Great post on a great enigma.
Aine