The next state of being

Carol came home, made a sandwich, told me about her day, then said, “Did you hear J. D. Salinger died?”

“Finally,” I said.

“What do you mean?” she said.

Twenty years ago, Salinger was one of my literary idols, and news of his death would have sent me into a tizzy. But since then I’ve grown tired of the way Salinger courted publicity by claiming to be a recluse; any time his book sales began to decline, he sued someone to get back in the news. Twenty years ago, I wanted to know what happened to his fictional family, the Glasses, after the events in the story “Franny and Zooey.” But now I’m bored by the preciousness of his characters’ dialogue, bored by Salinger’s half-baked mysticism, bored by his stories in which nothing much happens.

A year or so ago, I met one of Salinger’s neighbors, and this person knew Salinger about as well as a long-time neighbor in a small town could know someone. This neighbor described a man who was deaf as a post, with a long-suffering wife; someone who was cranky and mean but worthy of his neighbor’s amused affection. He was just what you’d expect of an outsider who had moved to a backwater hill town in New England and had tried to imitate an eccentric New Englander; he was not some immortal writer, he was just an ordinary nutty old man.

“Now that he’s dead,” I said to Carol, “maybe this will put an end to all the speculation about what he’s been writing for the past forty years.”

Given that Salinger’s last published story, “Hapworth 16, 1924,” was unreadable crap, you can feel pretty sure he wrote nothing of value after that. But I don’t think Salinger will be allowed to rest in peace. His literary executors will be tempted to follow the path blazed by J. R. R. Tolkien’s son, and cobble together scraps of left-over writing into bad books that will sell tens of thousands of copies. Right now, I’m praying that someone will burn all Salinger’s unpublished manuscripts before they are inflicted on the public. Let the old crank die a decent death.

Significantly, Salinger’s literary agents released a statement in which they stated there won’t be a funeral or memorial service. There are those who want no final end to his life. There are those who hope to turn J. D. Salinger into a zombie, neither alive nor dead, putrescent but tottering forward into a century in which he does not belong.

7 thoughts on “The next state of being

  1. Amy

    I started to write so much that I realized two things: I was hijacking your blog, and I have one of my own now. Whee! I’ll go over there.

  2. sally

    Dan, you articulated what I was thinking and could not put my finger on it until I read your blog entry

  3. Jean

    … is this really accurate? “any time his book sales began to decline, he sued someone to get back in the news”

  4. Amy

    Paul @ 3 wrote: LRY’er Joyce Maynard

    Oh dear. Do we have to put her on the Famous UUs mug? Can’t we just ignore her, the way we do John C. Calhoun? If her disappointing love affair had been with someone obscure, we’d never have heard of her.

    I’m being unfair, because I haven’t even read anything she’s written. I’m just mistrustful of 20-year-olds who write memoirs. They have to be very good writers and/or have had very interesting lives to make the result worth reading. And then she wrote another memoir in her 40s . . . so my primary impression of her is of ego.

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