R.I.P. J.D. Salinger

The above title has five consecutive initials,  appropriate since J.D. Salinger was a titan of letters. In a previous entry, Sob Stories, I paid tribute to this talented and eccentric writer. His easy breezy conversational style was an obvious influence on my writing, but I’d go so far as to say he influenced every writer born after World War II who ever wrote anything in the first person.

That’s a very specific and general statement. But in his most famous work, Catcher In The Rye, Salinger created Holden Caulfield, the most specific and general character of all time. Specific in that Holden Caulfield was a boarding school educated Northeastern privileged smart alec. General in that everyone could relate to him. In that book teen angst was if not born, at least given a name.

Holden Caulfield was the text book example of alienation, but perhaps neurotic is a more fitting descriptor. He had a long list of pet peeves and the smallest things pissed him off. It seems his creator wasn’t much different. He retreated from a society that longed for him.  He wouldn’t even share his full name with his readers (Jerome David).

For Salinger life was one cruel disappointment after another. In Catcher in the Rye, Salinger writes a biting monologue about the phoniness of  Hollywood, and then  his only son, Matt, chooses to become an actor ( he was a jock in Revenge of the Nerds and played Captain America in a direct to video movie). Salinger was a man who valued privacy above all else, and his other child, Margaret goes and writes a tell all memoir about her upbringing.

Salinger gave up on publishing his works after 1965. Many sources claim he continued to write every day, but  stored his works in a vault. Whereas the admirers of most writers wish the writer could live forever, Salinger fans had only his death to look forward to new stories.

My favorite book of his was a collection of shorts called Nine Stories. He demonstarted in nine different scenarios, a voice that made you feel smarter and dumber after reading it. More alienated and yet more connected to the rest of humanity.

He was a man who longed for purity in an imperfect world. He dabbled in countless religions from Eastern mysticism to Scientology, never seeming to find an explanation that suited him. Hopefully he’s now found the bliss he couldn’t get in our world.


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