Friday, January 29, 2010

Old phoney has finally gone

Over the last couple of decades, it was hard for a former fan such as me to believe that the goddam old guy still actually existed somewhere in flesh and blood, in a remote corner of his native land. For ages, the great US novelist J D Salinger—who happened to have been present as a soldier at Utah Beach in Normandy on D-Day—had become a recluse, who shunned contacts with the outside world.

Like countless adolescent readers throughout the planet, I was convinced that the teenager Holden Caulfield, hero of The Catcher in the Rye, was indeed my alter-ego. Fortunately, though, by the time I got around to reading this ground-breaking work of fiction, I had already left school, so my parents and former teachers escaped the unpleasant ordeal of enduring an obnoxious Caulfield imitator swaggering around and using coarse American slang. But I'm sure that younger school generations of brooding adolescent fans of Salinger filled in for me amply.

I was particularly fond of Salinger's novellas featuring the weird but wonderful siblings of the Glass family: Seymour, Buddy (the narrator), his sister Boo Boo, the twins Walt and Waker, and the two youngest children Zooey (male) and Franny (female).

Last Wednesday, when the old story-teller finally locked for the last time his secret vault of tales, it might have been a great day for Steve Jobs and his iPad, but it was definitely a bad day for Bananafish.


  1. Unfair to publish and inappropriate to publish "supermarket car park" photo of Salinger.

  2. It might be thought of as unfair and inappropriate to publish a photo of a celebrity who's not aware that he's being photographed: for example, a photo of Salinger chatting with a female college student. Personally, I don't have any hard-and-fast moral principles concerning images of celebrities. In any case, the photo of a furious Salinger in the supermarket car park is splendid, because it captures the real individual, with no distracting arty effects. This is an authentic image of a literary recluse who hated (to an almost pathological degree) to be observed in any other way than through his published work. That excellent portrayal of the writer removes any doubts that one might have had about whether Salinger had indeed transformed himself into a kind of grump. Incidentally, although I once admired greatly the skill of the storyteller, I must admit that I was turned off Salinger, as a human being, when I first heard about his weird grumpiness... which apparently hurt some of the people who surrounded him.

    An amazing news item concerning Salinger's retreat in Cornish is the story of how the citizens of the township, along with the unexpected participation of the impostor "Clark Rockefeller", played a role as sentinels.

  3. I really like what Adam Gopnik wrote about Salinger in his "Writer and Myth" article in the New Yorker Magazine, observations like this:
    "A self-enclosed writer doesn’t listen, and Salinger was a peerless listener: page after page of pure talk flowed out of him, moving and true and, above all, funny. He was a humorist with a heart before he was a mystic with a vision, or, rather, the vision flowed from the humor."

    I rather liked the fact that he simply refused to waste his life playing along with what "society" expects of a successful writer. Of the so-called "famous" people I have met, the less they were milling about the lime light, the better off they were.

  4. It goes without saying that my title, Old phoney has finally gone, was intended to be vaguely ironic, in the sense that Holden Caulfield, the hero of Catcher in the Rye, often applies the adjective "phoney" to adults who, from Holden's viewpoint, don't lead authentic lives. I'm not suggesting for a moment, though, that there was anything fake about the existence of Salinger. Besides, insofar as I too have acquired a taste for living as a recluse for the last 15 years, it would be most inappropriate of me to criticize seriously this aspect of the secluded existence of the great novelist Salinger. That's why I prefer a lukewarm adjective such as "grumpy" (sullen, not inclined to tolerate boring visitors)... which happens to be a word that would fit me too at times, like a glove. If Salinger's personal behavior ended up being criticized in the outside world, it's probably due in part to the way he seduced the 18-year-old student Joyce Maynard, only to drop her abruptly after a short time together. But, there again, the relationship between a celebrated adult novelist and his adolescent lover is really none of our business.