Over two weeks have passed since the death of mystified literary icon, J.D. Salinger, the author of The Catcher in the Rye and creator of its angst-ridden and much-loved antihero Holden Caulfield. Headlines and obituaries emphasize Salinger’s reclusive and secretive lifestyle, mentioning diehard fans’ wild goose chases for the man in his small town of Cornish, New Hampshire.
Although Mikki Halpin at Salon.com says she understands the appeal to see Salinger as a “higher intellect who has rejected it all,” she also finds this portrait of him “curious,” suggesting it conveniently bars the public from facing some uneasy assertions about the late writer’s relationships with women.
Halpin relies on the accounts of people who knew Salinger.
Nancy Norwalk, a librarian from the Philip Read Memorial Library that Salinger regularly visited, described him as a townsperson, according to Katie Zezima from The New York Times.
“[In Cornish] Mr. Salinger was just Jerry, a quiet man who arrived early to church suppers, nodded hello while buying a newspaper at the general store and wrote a thank-you note to the fire department after it extinguished a blaze and helped save his papers and writings,” wrote Zezima.
Regardless, the image of Salinger as a recluse persists.
Both Salinger’s daughter Margaret and ex-lover Joyce Maynard have also penned memoirs detailing their experiences with the man, and they didn’t paint a pretty picture of him either. Both women were largely condemned by the media as liars and attention seekers.
Halpin explains why:
“As feminists have long known, the personal is political, and women who tell unpleasant truths rarely find a receptive audience. Anyone who got into an argument about Roman Polanski this past year knows how desperately fans can cling to their icons, despite clear evidence of wrongdoing. Acknowledging the experiences of Margaret Salinger or Joyce Maynard would mean deviating from the Salinger myth.”
Halpin presents an intriguing, alternative depiction of a man known for lamenting the omnipresence of phonies around him. I suggest checking out her article for those of you who can’t resist the insatiable pull to learn more about a man who would’ve rather remained a mystery. You wouldn’t be alone.