An attempt to come to terms with J.D. Salinger’s life (1919-2010) and legacy.
Whether or not Open City founder Beller (How to Be a Man: Scenes from a Protracted Boyhood, 2005) ever intended to write a full-fledged biography of the late author, what he has produced is more like literary criticism of other Salinger bios and memoirs, along with impressions of early Salinger stories and visits with some who knew or worked with him (some of who still prefer anonymity). It is also about the writing of such a book, the affinities the author feels for his subject and the ambivalence of his pursuit: “There are two ways to respond to a secret when one comes into your possession: You share it with everyone, or you keep it, and delight in being part of the conspiracy of virtue. In this book I want to do both.” If there were secrets he unearthed, he must have kept them, since what he has written is filled with conjecture. Consider Salinger’s relationship with celebrity debutante Oona O’Neill, his first public obsession with a much younger woman (before she dumped him to marry the much older Charlie Chaplin): “Was Oona the love of his life? Or an epic crush and the object of his most intense ardor and lust? Or an occasion for social climbing? Or a trophy? I vote for all of the above.” Beller relies heavily on the unpublished manuscript for Ian Hamilton’s biography, which Salinger successfully sued to have all quotes from his letters removed and which resulted in a published version that was still more revelatory than this latter-day gloss on it. He offers a secondhand quote from Salinger that “a writer’s worst enemy is another writer,” but one senses that Salinger would consider this author more a nuisance than a formidable foe.
A light and halfhearted treatment. Turn to David Shields and Shane Salerno’s Salinger (2013) instead.