Friday, January 29, 2010

I felt a sense of loss to hear the news of the death of J.D. Salinger.  A man whose last published work was over 40 years ago and who had shunned the public eye since the 1950's.  Wanting to be alone but was never left alone all because of one little book that he cursed himself for having written but so many of us are forever grateful that he did. I never could understand what possesed him to sever that link between writer and reader.  How he could tempt us with his genius and then within a few short years deny us anymore.  What had we done to him to make him hate us so.  Salinger himself as the character of Holden relates to that personal connection one can feel with certain literary characters and their creators.  Characters that you wish were alive so you could call them up on the phone and talk to them. There are those writers who only have one story to tell but I don't believe Salinger was one of them.  It was suggested that he wrote every day for years because he loved to write but hated to have his work published.  His death  may bring to light hidden treasures that he held on to like a miser or may reveal that he really had said all he wanted to say and wanted just to be left alone.  That we were greedy rather then he was selfish. I think many of the people who tried to see him just wanted to say thank you.  I would have wanted to.

I was introduced to Holden Caufield the summer I turned 17 by the first girl I ever loved.  I considered myself well read but had never heard of Salinger.  She told me I just have to read this book and  I went directly to the library and checked it out and finished it in a weekend.  Here was a character who like me was making that rough crossing from childhood to adolescence.  I was a hopeless romantic on the brink of getting my heart broken and the book perfectly described my state of mind where just about everything was a source of despair and happiness was brief and rare and usually beyond my grasp. By the end of Summer my "Jane Gallagher" had taken up with someone like "Ward Stradlater", an equally self-absorbed and self-assured swine who could never appreciate the pearl before him.

I found a nice old library copy of Catcher for .75 at a garage sale about 16 years ago and tried to read it again.  It was just as funny as I remembered it, but something was missing, Holden no longer seemed a prophet but a whiney little brat who needed to get over himself.  My boys are now the same age I was when I first read it and don't seem all that interested in knowing Holden Caufield, or Phoebe, or the missing ducks in Central Park. They have that cartoon Harry Potter.  Perhaps Holden has finally become like Huckleberry Finn an artifact of the past that has no relevance in the present. He is nothing remarkable.  The anti-hero, the self-loathing depressive of post-war American literature has been cured with anti-depressants and motivational thinking. We are still self-absorbed but not with shame, or guilt but with our own inflated ego. We don't endure life we make it our bitch and if we don't we die a lonely death as a miserable malcontent in a cabin in New Hampshire.

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