The Big Question has finally been answered. For almost 50 years, J. D. Salinger fans have wondered if the author of the classic “The Catcher in the Rye,” had written anything since he decided to become a hermit and go live in the New Hampshire woods. His last book, “Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenter,” was published in 1963, and except for a short story that appeared in the New Yorker, he has published nothing since. Rumors persisted, since he died in 2010, that he had continued writing to the end and that someday new books would be released. Turns out those rumor were true. Five new Salinger books will be released– but not until 2015.
This revelation is contained in a new book and documentary film, both called simply enough, “Salinger.” According to an article in the Washington Post, the book and film also contain a lot of personal information about Salinger that I’m not sure anyone really needs to know. But that doesn’t stop anyone from going there.
I always wondered what would drive a man at the peak of his fame to simply drop out. When he moved into his compound in New Hampshire, “The Catcher in the Rye” was hugely successful. It gave him a steady stream of income, enough money to turn down offers from Hollywood to turn the novel into a movie. The book continues to be reprinted to this day.
Salinger reached a place most writers only dream about– being so successful artistically and financially that you simply don’t have to do anything any more. I often thought of J.D., who was a student of Zen Buddhism, as one of those characters in some of the stories you read about legendary Samurai swordsmen. “The deadliest swordsman is he who never has to draw his sword.” Salinger, so deadly with a typewriter (or keyboard) he never has to put his fingers to the keys.
But, it turns out he did tap the keys. He kept on writing. Whatever his reasons, and they must have been complex, he stayed out of the limelight, shunned publicity and interviews, but he kept on working. Enough to fill five books. He still had something to say. And this raises still more questions. What’s in those books? Will these new works reflect the times that came after “Franny and Zooey” and the Holden Caulfield novel? Will there be any commentary on the way the world has changed since the 1960s? Will these books speak to anything that is relevant to us now, all these years later? It’ll be interesting to see.
According to the Post article there will be five books, including fresh stories about the Glass family, featured in “Franny and Zooey” as well as Holden Caulfield and his family. There will also be what Salinger calls “a manual of Vedanta” the Hindu philosophy he followed in the second half of his life. In addition, there will be a novel and a novela about Salinger’s experiences as a member of the Army Counter Intelligence Corps during World War II.
Whether there will be any more material to be released later isn’t known yet. But I wouldn’t be surprised. It’ll be very interesting see critical reaction to the books as they are released. Today authors are treated by the trash journalism of the now as just more grist for the mill. I suspect more reviewers will focus more on how weird Salinger was and the specific details of his private life revealed in this new documentary and biography than anything else. Is it any wonder he hid in the woods?