J.D. Salinger: When less is more - Macleans.ca

J.D. Salinger: When less is more

Salinger’s reclusiveness was a blessing to his fans


When news came that J.D. Salinger had died at the decidedly un-young age of 91, you could almost hear that iconic teenager Holden Caulfield whining, “How could they tell?” But, as it turns out, Salinger, the enigmatic literary recluse, author of The Catcher in the Rye (1951) and Holden’s creator, did have family and friends in his life. It was the world at large he loathed, much like his creation did. And Holden Caulfield, a huge favourite with millions of adolescents over the last half century—though just as vehemently despised by a vocal minority—who virtually invented teenage angst. Rebellious or, more precisely, alienated youth have become, and seem likely to remain, pop culture staples. Some critics claim the fiction and movies inspired by The Catcher in the Rye add up to a sub-genre of their own. Curiously, it’s not the novels that come to mind—except for Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar—but the films. Everything from The Graduate to anything directed by Wes Anderson seems almost unthinkable without Salinger’s precedent-setting work. Devotees, of course, were driven mad by Salinger’s subsequent silence: his refusal to write (or at least publish) more; the absence of a sequel, of Holden grown up; the legal pursuit of those trying to fill the void; the refusal to permit film adaptations. But however much the reclusiveness suited the author’s own needs, fans should thank him for it. It is precisely that silence that has frozen the whinging, angst-ridden, authentic Holden Caulfield in our cultural DNA. Consider only this: according to Joyce Maynard’s 1999 memoir of her 10-month affair with Salinger, he told her that in the ’70s that Jerry Lewis “tried for years to get his hands on the part of Holden.” And be grateful.


J.D. Salinger: When less is more

  1. I read Catcher when I was too young to appreciate it. Later on I learned
    to love the Franny and Zooey stories.

    • I've been thinking I should have something to say about Salinger and your comment about being too young to appreciate 'The Catcher in the Rye' brought this thought to mind; that reading 'Catcher' was and is a rite of passage. It's enduring virtue is that virtually everyone that reads it is too young to appreciate it for it is often the first book that inspires readers to contemplate prose as art, or literature, or something more than mere entertainment.

      Plus, anyone who has ever read 'Catcher' and is somewhat familiar with the Salinger-recluse legend will forever know the secret pleasure of sneering at any author that dares to do the book tour thingy to flog their writing for money. Holden Caulfield will live forever, or at least as long as adolescence endures.

  2. i loved the man who so accurately expressed something as close to my own innards as anything anyone else had or has written. his silence was so easy to understand – just look at the blather now that he has died. he was a spiritual brother to so many of us, a model of sanity for those of us who just could not fit into the cookie cutter 60 varieties of toothpaste on every shelf mold America and its followers made for us. he opened the heart, not to mention doors of thought and exploration to the east, for many of us. he developed from holden to franny and zooey, our unforgetable buddies, and Buddy, and then he gave us sad, funny, wise, cranky, but almost always right Seymour, just enough (a dim sum amount) to make us miss him when he checked out, though the wedding day was a blast, or at least the taxi ride. Anyway – bless you strange man, and good night, Buddy. I'm sorry you're gone, but so grateful you came to stay, even if it meant you standing in the corner eyeing the borscht for 45 years.