Age 91 (deceased)
Most Famous Works: The Catcher in the Rye (1951), Franny and Zooey (1961), “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” (1948)
It has been just over a year since J.D. Salinger passed away and with the arrival of the first anniversary of his death, I’ve chosen to take the time to reflect on his life and what made him a genius auteur and one of the greatest authors of the 20th century. For many people, Salinger’s work at first appears to be simple. He writes stories very much grounded to reality, frequently being told from the first person perspective of the main character. However, after analyzing the story of the man’s life, it becomes prevalent how deep into the human psyche Salinger was willing to travel and how accurately he understood life and the human condition.
Although Salinger had come from a well-to-do family in New York, he received no special treatment upon being drafted during World War II where he stormed Utah Beach at Normandy and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Salinger had already been a struggling writer for some time before going to war, however it was his influential meetings with fellow author and war correspondent Ernest Hemingway that rekindled his encouragement to write. After returning from the European Theater, Salinger finally got his big break, publishing his first short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” in The New Yorker. When tracing the recurring themes found in Salinger’s work through subsequent years, “Bananafish” feels like the perfect jumping off point. “Bananafish” has many of the trademarks of a Salinger story: the sharp dialogue, the intelligent (and cynical) main characters and the introduction of Seymour Glass of the Glass family.
While The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield will always be the most famous of Salinger’s characters, nobody seemed to grasp the author’s imagination and sensibilities quite like the Glass family – a family of childhood geniuses who became lost and depressed in adulthood who appeared frequently in Salinger’s short stories. While the Glass family can be easily described as a group of spoiled, pretentious children; they were the most personal of Salinger’s characters, because they reflected his outlook on the world. Like the Glass family, Salinger had grown up with a silver spoon in his mouth and ambition in his eyes, and like Salinger, the Glass family’s perception of the world was ruined by the disturbing truth of reality – whether that reality be the horrors of World War II or the depression of never realizing one’s true potential.
Despite Salinger’s prestige in the literary world, he only ever published one novel: The Catcher in the Rye – his other three published works being collections of short stories. Like fellow auteur Terrence Malick, Salinger chose to live the life of a recluse and his career as an author ended in 1965. Little is known about the subsequent forty-five years of Salinger’s life, apart from the fact that he spent close to all of his time at his house in New Hampshire. However the rumors of those years are endlessly intriguing, including the idea that Salinger never gave up writing, and that there are as many as fifteen novels, several based around the Glass family, that he locked in a safe for his eyes only. It is unlikely any of these manuscripts will ever see the light of day but still one cannot help to fantasize that although the man has passed away, the publication of a new Salinger novel is never an impossibility.
Most Aesthetically Pleasing Scene:
“Teddy”, the final story in Salinger’s Nine Stories anthology tells the story of a ten-year-old boy who grapples with the meaning of life while talking to a graduate student onboard a ship. The ambition of the piece is staggering and nothing compares to the shocking, ambiguous ending that will stay in your head long after you finish the final sentence.
By Eric Weintraub