Tuesday, November 07, 2006

My J.D. Salinger Obsession

I haven’t really obsessed about a writer like this since I first read Steven Millhauser’s Little Kingdoms a few years ago, but after finishing off Salinger’s entire non-Catcher in the Rye work in under two months, which includes Nine Stories, Raise High the Roof Beams, Carpenter and Seymour: An Introduction, and Franny and Zooey (which I read in that order), I found myself still hungry for more. Unfortunately, as most people know, Salinger famously decided to stop publishing in 1965 after a spate of negative critical reviews of his ongoing Glass family saga (which all three novels above focus on to varying degrees) and withdrew from public life, refusing to allow any of his out of print short stories to be reprinted.

Yesterday, in an errant, hurried lunch break spent Googling Salinger and reading various bios and critical reviews of the Glass family stories, I discovered this gold mine of a website, which has all of Salinger’s uncollected works available for free! The site includes not only every single Salinger story ever published, in chronological order with full bibliographic references, but it also contains the somewhat legendary and long out-of-print “Hapworth 16, 1924,” Salinger's final published story (though there is much speculation that the author has withheld many novels and stories) which is, essentially, a long-winded, rambling, deeply eloquent letter from Seymour Glass, age 7, troubled genius and poet, while away at summer camp in Maine.

Incidentally, Salinger’s first published story, “The Young Folks,” a seven-page snippet of an Ivy League party and a failed one night stand, which first appeared in a rare magazine called Story (XVI) in March 1940, is absolutely horrible. There is little evidence of the genius that would eventually follow, nor is the writing particularly crisp or substantial. Stylistically, one can see Salinger’s love of dialogue, and his subtle, academic sarcasm, but these are so buried, they are virtually non-existant. Rather, the story feels clumsy, the dialogue labored, and the interaction between the two characters, whose attempts at flirting are painfully awkward, fails to inspire any real emotion or culminate in any lasting point. Were this any other writer than Salinger, this story would be immediately forgotten, and perhaps it is better that it remains mired in obscurity. It’s fascinating to read, and, as a writer myself, inspires some little hope in the fact that even the most celebrated authors come from humble beginnings, but is otherwise little more than a curious starting point for one of our greatest living authors.

1 comment:

bethtre@hotmail.com said...

This is officially my first comment on a blog page ever. In my googling of Salinger, I came across your blog. I was so happy to see your enthusiasm as I am very big Salinger fan. And the website you found is great, I had not seen it yet. I have also read Catcher, Nine Stories, Raise High, Franny and Zoey, and I am currently reading Seymour: An Introduction.

Thanks again for the link.