A handful of young(ish) writers map their responses to J.D. Salinger’s work in essays that range from loose and funny to remarkably uptight, gathered by Poughkeepsie Review founding editor Kotzen and novelist Beller (The Sleep-Over Artist, 2000, etc.).
Slice him this way or that, Salinger has been an enormous influence on American literature. Kotzen and Beller asked 14 writers to consider their reactions to his writing, and the result is this jangle of pieces that knock about in Salingerland, for better or worse. Walter Kirn suggests that great books fade into the background while triggering self-centered memories, and if his writing-school essay is any measure of that indulgence, then The Catcher in the Rye is a very great book indeed. Emma Forrest administers Salinger the defibrillator—“Salinger is the literary equivalent of a pedophile: the child’s world equals good and all adults are fake and phoney. That’s how a pervert thinks”—and then turns it on herself: “I don't think that people who are phoney are necessarily a bad thing,” embarrassingly invoking Vonnegut to support her contention. Lucinda Rosenfeld is devilishly perceptive and fast to draw a sleeve across the windpipe, while noting that “brilliant writing tends to steam-roll everything in its path.” And Karen Bender is more specific in seeing “how characters disappeared into their gestures, dialogue, and how Salinger’s breath was transformed into perception, scene, craft.” Jane Mendelsohn shifts between some bedrock material, recognizing in Salinger kids’ first encounter with “two kinds of truth and that negotiating between them marks the beginning of the end of childhood,” and some really fruity stuff, like Catcher isn’t about understanding but rather “all about death.”
Half of the writers here will cringe when they read their words in 20 years, but the rest provide some humdinging stuff, as much tortured fun as their subject.