Salinger: A Biography

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9780312673345: Salinger: A Biography

J.D. Salinger was one of the twentieth century’s greatest writers.  He was also one of its most elusive.  After making his mark on the American literary scene, Salinger retreated to a small town in New Hampshire where he hoped to hide his life away from the world.  With dogged determination, however, journalist and biographer Paul Alexander captured Salinger’s story in this, the only complete biography of Holden Caulfield’s creator published to date.  Using the archives at Princeton, Yale, Harvard, Columbia, NYU and the New York Public Library as well as research in New York and New Hampshire, Alexander has created a great biography of Salinger that’s further enriched by interviews with some of the greatest literary figures of our time: George Plimpton, Gay Talese, Ian Hamilton, Harold Bloom, Roger Angell, A. Scott Berg, Robert Giroux, Ved Mehta, Gordon Lish and Tom Wolfe.

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Review:

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

About the Author:


PAUL ALEXANDER is the author of many biographies, including Rough Magic, a biography of Sylvia Plath; Man of the People, a biography of John McCain; and Machiavelli's Shadow: The Rise and Fall of Karl Rove. His nonfiction has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, The Nation, New York Magazine, and The Daily Beast.

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