"My childhood was lush with make-believe: wood sprites, fairies, a bower of imaginary friends, books about lands somewhere East of the Sun and West of the Moon... In real life, however, it was a world that dangled between dream and nightmare on a gossamer thread my parents wove, without the reality of solid ground to catch a body should he or she fall." In her much-anticipated memoir, Margaret A. Salinger writes about life with her famously reclusive father, J.D. Salinger -- offering a rare look into the man and the myth, what it is like to be his daughter, and the effect of such a charismatic figure on the girls and women closest to him. Dream Catcher With generosity and insight, Ms. Salinger has written a book that is eloquent, spellbinding, and wise, yet at the same time retains the intimacy of a novel. Her story chronicles an almost cultlike environment of extreme isolation and early neglect interwoven with times of laughter, joy, and dazzling beauty. She also delves into her parents' lives before her own birth, illuminating their childhoods, their wrenching experiences during World War II, and above all the seeds and real-life inspirations for J.D. Salinger's literary preoccupation with "phonies," protracted innocence, precocious children, and spiritual perfection. Ms. Salinger compassionately explores the complex dynamics of family relationships. Her story is one that seeks to come to terms with the dark parts of her life that, quite literally, nearly killed her, and to pass on a life-affirming heritage to her own child. The story of being a Salinger is unique; the story of being a daughter is universal. This book appeals to anyone, J.D. Salinger fan orno, who has ever had to struggle to sort out who she really is from who her parentsdreamed she might be.
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In her memoir Dream Catcher, Margaret Salinger--who is, as everyone and their cat must surely now know, the daughter of writer and recluse J.D. Salinger--describes a childhood of unbelievable isolation and emotional stress, "lush with make-believe," "a world both terrible and beautiful ... that dangled between dream and nightmare on a gossamer thread." What she's describing, of course, is madness, first incipient and then in hothouse cultivation. In fact, just reading about it made this reviewer feel like her f-a-c-u-l-t-i-e-s were not quite intact. What was it like to grow up with a father whose love for children amounted almost to a religion? Well, for one thing, there were always those impossibly swell fictional kids around to make you look bad. (J.D. actually wanted to call his daughter Phoebe, after the sister in The Catcher in the Rye.) Worse, though, it meant being forced to sacrifice her childhood on the altar of Daddy's saintliness. She quotes the famous paragraph in which Holden envisions standing guard to catch little children from going over a cliff. "When I read this passage as an adult with a child of my own, my first reaction was outrage.... Where are the grown-ups? Why are those kids allowed to play so close to the edge of a cliff?" Salinger's reaction might be literal-minded, but it contains considerable truth--especially considering that she herself went over that cliff once or twice, and ol' J.D. certainly wasn't around to catch anybody.
When it comes to the ethics of writing a book about the experience, of course, friends must agree to let friends disagree. No one can deny that Salinger's account is balanced, thorough, and honest--sometimes to a fault. Moreoever, it's clear that Peggy Salinger is an admirable person, who has fought long and hard to attain the level of happiness and understanding that made the writing of this memoir possible. And yet, there's also no denying that her book cries out for a strong editing hand. Reading it feels like watching someone sort out complicated feelings in front of you: compelling, certainly, but also a little voyeuristic, and more than occasionally digressive. Salinger's analysis of her father seems psychologically (and literarily) acute, but--urine-drinking aside--there's nothing she tells us about his character that a diligent reader of his books doesn't instinctively know. "Get what you can from his writing, his stories," Salinger writes, "but the author himself will not appear out of nowhere to catch those kids if they get too close to that crazy cliff." Did anyone think he would? Dream Catcher is written by the only person who had the right to expect such a thing. Sadly, his fictional creations, those wise children, were given his best self, and his daughter was left with the rest. --Mary ParkAbout the Author:
Margaret A. Salinger earned her B.A. from Brandeis University summa cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa; earned an M.Phil. from Oxford University; and attended Harvard Divinity School as a Williams Scholar. She lives with her husband and son.
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