Friday, January 29, 2010

Salinger’s death

J. D. Salinger’s death on Wednesday at the age of ninety-one puts an end to one of America’s strangest literary careers. John Podhoretz has a nice summary here. I said pretty much all I have to say about Salinger last July, shortly after he sued to prevent the publication of a sequel to The Catcher in the Rye.

“Perhaps there is gold to be mined in his New Hampshire home in the form of the manuscripts he was said to labor over,” Podhoretz writes. And that is the only question outstanding about Salinger. My guess is that nothing substantial or finished will turn up. Although The Catcher in the Rye is among the fifty greatest English-language novels published since 1880, Salinger never published anything else approaching it. Increasingly it looked like a freak. Although Nine Stories contained some charming stuff, and influenced some better writers who came after him, Salinger had just the one book in him. One book is sufficient for literary immortality, though—if the book is immortal. I don’t know whether Catcher is. But it has sure proved to be durable.

Update: John Podhoretz has posted a parodic obituary that appeared on Facebook.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the better question is, Will Salinger's family allow his manuscripts to be published after his death?

D. G. Myers said...

That’s the better question if and only if those manuscripts exist. Which I doubt. Shelf after shelf of notes, yes. Squibs, false starts, sketches, patches of dialogue. But nothing whole. Nothing finished.

That’s my guess and I’m sticking to it.

scott g.f.bailey said...

My guess is that you're right and there are no finished works, but a lot of material will still find its way into the maws of the publishing machine.

Pernambuco said...

I disagree. I think Salinger's stories are major contributions to the genre and that "Franny and Zooey" is a wonderful novel. I reread it every year or so. Janet Malcolm has published an interesting reevaluation:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/14272

ghostofelberry said...

i think many writers only have one really good novel in them - the rest are minor works, either getting to that peak, or aftershocks, losing momentum. But if you like that one great novel the others are usually enjoyable too. Of course, i'm being simplistic here - it's more like 2 or 3 or 4 great novels, surrounded by a dozen minor works; and they're not necessarily concentrated in the same period - they can be spread over a career.

i just remembered that the terrifying giant psychopath in Cormac McCarthy's 1985 Blood Meridian is called "Judge Holden".

jacobpedia said...

@ghostofelberry, the Judge Holden's name is nothing more than coincidence. Judge Holden is an allegedly historical figure included in the book that inspired Blood Meridian.

By the way, I'm inclined to agree with Professor Myers on Salinger's productivity, or lack thereof. I don't think he had anything left in him, and rather than admit it, he turned not publishing into a virtue.

ghostofelberry said...

It seems likely that the original Judge Holden, of whom McCarthy writes "he will never die" (or something like that), was in fact JD Salinger. Having murdered his way through Texas, he decided to write a novel to inspire future killers, and this done he then abandoned the Salinger mask and continued to kill - even now, he is out there, watching, perhaps writing.

Stephen said...

That parodic obituary better describes the decline of idealism in Salinger's readers than in Salinger. Salinger stuck with his convictions about the corrosive influence of fame and celebrity and refused to be a whore for four decades. As for Holden the character, he concludes the book by saying that he has, in the telling, found himself missing everyone he's ever known. This is because he knows his mission, and his mission is that of Jesus Christ, to love everyone and to raise their awareness of the holiness that is innocence and love, and he's a bit overwhelmed by that mission. D.G., why haven't you attended to the spirituality in Salinger's work? Why are abiding by fashionable, misguided opinions of Salinger and his work?