So long, J.D. Salinger
It was a wintry and dark day and the air was full of dust and the smell of burning oil and feces. I was talking to my first roommate in the marine corps, Dan, about life and the world at large and how he was dealing with being in Iraq for Christmas. He said he was fine, all things considered, and wanted to know if I had my copy of Catcher In The Rye ready to read. I told him I had read the novel when I was fourteen, and even though it was one of the touchstones in my intellectual and literary development, I had never re-read or given it much thought since high school. Dan said he had a ritual of reading the book every December and encouraged me to read it again.
The next December when I was again in Iraq, I read the novel again for the second time. I had my worries, I thought that maybe I wouldn’t consider it quite as good now that I was older, less maudlin, and it would seem just as silly and painful as all my Smiths albums. But I found out that my 14 year old self had discovered a fine work of literature, and I enjoyed just as much the second time around.
Later, I found a copy of Salinger’s Nine Stories after I returned from deployment and was enamored with those little pieces. Instead of finding a whiny prep-school dropout, there were poignant stories of veterans readjusting to society and the truths they spoke really struck me.
“For Esme, with Love and Squalor,” especially got to me. It’s the story of a shell shocked soldier who receives a letter from a child towards the end of the war. With shaking hands, the soldier holds the child’s letter and is reminded once more of his humanity in the midst of the absurdity of World War II.
It reminded me of receiving a long letter from my youngest brother –three months after he sent it- with his little-kid handwriting and drawings and made up newsletters he created to entertain me, three months after he sent it. That little piece of innocence struck me in a profound way and I remember having shaky hands and hiding myself away for a few hours after reading it.
Salinger was one of America’s finest post World War II authors and with his death our country has lost one of its best writers. One could argue we lost him a long time ago when he retreated to the New Hampshire woods and ceased publishing in 1965, but even in that silence his importance continued to grow. Secluding himself may have been selfish and the best career move of all time, but his influence continues to show on every new writer and author who finds it finds it hard to escape the shadow of Holden Caufield and his dominance on youthful America.
Selfishly, I hope squirreled away in that house of his, there are more manuscripts and the rest of the details of the Glass family will finally be revealed.
But part of me is ok if what is already printed is all we will ever see from Salinger. His writing has already impacted my life and I’m sure 14 year old kids will continue to read about Holden Caufield while listening to Smiths albums long into this new century.
You may contact Don Iler at firstname.lastname@example.org