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David A. Schwinghammer

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J.D. Salinger (book review)
By David A. Schwinghammer
Last edited: Monday, February 07, 2011
Posted: Monday, February 07, 2011



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New biography on J.D. Salinger reveals how eastern religion influenced his writing.



Kenneth Slawenski runs a website entitled DeadCaulfields.com, which might explain a lot of things about this bio. Random House is the publisher, however, which gives the work some credibility.

Perhaps the most irritating thing about the book is that Slawenski analyzes every single piece of writing Salinger produced, when the reader just wants to know what the heck JD was doing all those years from the mid sixties until he died in 2010. We don’t get an answer. Kind of strange considering Matt and Peggy, JD’s children are still alive.

We do learn that Salinger fought in WWII and that he was a CID agent, a sort of spy who interviewed the locals when the army moved into various locales. Must of the time though he was a regular foot soldier who rose to the rank of staff sergeant and fought at Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge and was involved in the freeing of some of the concentration camps. All of this affected his writing. Soon after the war, Salinger became involved in Zen Buddhism and other eastern religions, and according to Slawenski, his writing became a sort of prayer. Slawenski passes on the rumor that Salinger may have written at least fifteen novels during the time he was cloistered in Cornish, New Hampshire, but he offers no real evidence.

We also learn quite a bit about his personal life and his three wives. Slawenski briefly mentions the Joyce Maynard affair, but doesn’t go into enough salacious detail for one who hasn’t read Maynard’s book.

I just don’t believe Salinger was writing Glass stories all those years. “Hapworth 16, 1924” Salinger’s last published story seems to be a dead giveaway. Apparently Salinger tried to publish it in book form in the late nineties. It’s a weird story that portrays Seymour Glass as some kind of six-year-old savant and spiritual guru. The critics ignored it. Slawenski suggests that since THE NEW YORKER owned the rights to the story, Salinger was only trying to get them back. It was the only one of his stories he didn’t own the rights to. If that wasn’t the case, why would he want to publish one of his worst stories when he had all those other manuscripts in the “vault”?

Slawenski and Random House may have been trying to be the first out there with a biography. If they’d waited a decent amount of time, maybe Salinger’s children would have agreed to cooperate. By the way, there is a will and it supposedly discusses his literary effects.

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