Reclusive author J. D. Salinger dead at 91. (I don’t usually link to The New York Times, for a variety of reasons, but they’ve got a pretty hefty obit on him.) I started this essay the day he died, but it’s taken me a few days to get down my thoughts.
Salinger was a talented writer who wrote one novel that annoyed the living shit out of me. I hated The Catcher in the Rye, and more specifically, hated Holden Caulfield with a livid and unrestrained passion. Never before has a single fictional character so infuriated me. “Oh woe is me, let me whine about my miserable, privileged, upper class New York City life.” He’s a phony who hates phonies. Got it. Doesn’t mean I want to spend some 180 pages living inside that fucking asshole’s head. True, I read it far too late (mid 20s) to be grabbed by the teen angst angle, but I suspected I would have longed to punch him until he got over himself even in my teens.
So, more than a decade after I read Catcher in the Rye, some of my friends started getting into Anime, one of them being Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which references Salinger out the yin yang, especially the story “The Laughing Man.” (I think that link is to some Hungarian pirate site, if the moral implications of stealing a few pennies from his estate that way rather than by buying a cheap used paperback worries you.) And you know what? That’s a pretty swell story.
Over the next few years, I read all the stories in Nine Stories, and several others are pretty good as well. “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” is probably the one most people have read, and justifiably so. “For Esmé – with Love and Squalor” is a bit obvious, but it works. The protagonist of “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period” is just as big a phony as Holden Caulfield, but knows he’s a phony, which makes all the difference in the world.
And then you read something like “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut,” (“I was a nice girl, wasn’t I?” No, no you weren’t.) and you realize that Salinger probably not only hated Holden Caulfield more than I did, but probably more than anyone else ever could.
In a way, his reclusive existence after Catcher is like the Great American Success Story, Misanthrope’s Version: Write the Great American Novel, build an estate way the hell out in the sticks, live off the royalties the remainder of your life and say “Fuck you” to the rest of the world. (I could have done without the Wacky Religion of the Week myself, but hey, it wasn’t my life.) He didn’t owe nobody nuthin’, and didn’t care what anyone else thought. Good for him.
I never got around to reading his other published books, sparse though their number was. Now that he’s dead, I wouldn’t be surprised to see his heirs start raking in the dough for getting all his unpublished and uncollected work into print just as fast as the checks can clear. Maybe he has a novel in that safe that won’t annoy the hell out of me.
And speaking of GitS:SAC, someone posted this nifty animated Laughing Man logo on the Fark thread about Salinger’s death, so I’m going to put it here: