J.D. Salinger: A Biography
offers the first full-length popular account of American literature's great recluse, giving new insights into the author of The Catcher In the Rye
. Salinger, was one of the most successful writers of American short fiction---the quintessential New Yorker
writer---when he was only in his twenties and thirties. Then, mysteriously, he withdrew from the world, retiring to a cabin in New Hampshire where he practices Zen. Though Salinger has said that he continues to write, he has not published since the early 1960s
Paul Alexander, bestselling biographer and journalist, has carefully researched and masterfully described Salinger the human being and Salinger the icon. He answers the numerous questions that encircle the life and legacy of J.D. Salinger. Why did critics become unreceptive to Salinger's stories as he grew older? Why are the important women in his life so much younger than he? Why does he sometimes seem to be playing peek-a-boo with his admirers? If he truly wants to be left alone, why does he leave so many clues? Why have his books been linked with famously psychotic young people such as the assassin of John Lennon and the would-be assassin of President Reagan?
Alexander draws upon published sources and personal interviews with over forty important literary figures such as George Plimpton, Gay Talese, and Tom Wolfe. He traces the writer's early years living on the periphery of genteel society in Manhattan's Upper West Side. He follows Salinger's failures and successes as a student, his harrowing experiences during World War II, and his romances---including one with teenager Oona O'Neill, who married Charlie Chaplin. He connects Salinger's life to Salinger's work through detailed commentary on his writings, and he gives the only complete overview ever written of the last thirty years of the writer's life-a history of attempts to escape attention combined with a coy desire to remain in the public eye
So averse to any kind of publicity that he went to court to prevent a previous biography, J.D. Salinger will undoubtedly be distressed by this book as well, especially since author Paul Alexander suggests that the writer's reclusiveness might be just a shrewd ploy to pique readers' interest and maintain good sales for his books. The Catcher in the Rye hardly needs that kind of help; the novel has been hugely popular since its initial release in 1951, though even then Salinger found the publication process distasteful. What made him abnormally sensitive to the stresses of public life? Readers won't find out here, although Alexander capably narrates the scant biographical material available: Salinger's birth in 1919; his aimless, academically underachieving youth; military service in some of World War II's grimmest battles; two failed marriages; self-exile from publishing at the height of his fame; the 1973 affair with teenage writer Joyce Maynard; and her arguably revengeful 1998 memoir. It would probably please Salinger that the psychological forces that power his creativity and eccentricity remain a mystery. Alexander notes the writer's near-exclusive focus on young people in his fiction, as well as the fact that Salinger's romantic relations have almost all been with very young women, but he can't really explain these facts. There just isn't enough information, although some enjoyably gossipy quotes from various interviews (ranging from usual literary suspects like George Plimpton to Salinger's former housekeeper) keep the book quite readable. --Wendy Smith