On September 6th a documentary on J.D. Salinger, called simply Salinger, will be released in theaters. For Salinger fans this is a big deal. The television rights have already been sold to PBS. A book full of photographs will be in stores September 3rd. Those attending advance screenings of the film, or who have been given access to the book, have signed non-disclosure agreements. Of course, tons of information has leaked out. (You have to wonder how Salinger managed to keep his secrets for decades, when the Weinstein’s couldn’t manage it for a few weeks). That Salinger was in the intelligence service during WWII, possibly suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, was a jerk to the women he dated (well, that wasn’t necessarily news) and that we may be seeing new works in the next 5 years – has all been revealed over the past weekend. So I’m looking forward to seeing the actual film next week if only to find out what surprises – if any – are left.
Reading The Cather in the Rye was not a world altering event for everyone. Some of us prefer Salinger’s short stories – particularly those about the Glass family. After reading Nine Stories; Raise High the Roofbeams, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction; and Franny & Zooey I was so enamored that I spent a ridiculous amount of time trying to get my hands on anything he’d ever written. What did I discover? That there wasn’t much out there to discover. Some uncollected short stories on microfiche at the New York Public library; a copy of The Way of the Pilgrim (the source of the Jesus Prayer that Franny takes up in Franny & Zooey); In Search of J.D. Salinger, a.k.a. – Ian Hamilton’s Hail Mary attempt to see a return on years spent researching the Salinger biography he wasn’t allowed to publish; and a small 1960’s paperback collection of essays on Salinger’s work (more on that later) discovered in a second-hand shop.
I had and have no interest in reading Joyce Maynard’s memoir. I’m still on the fence regarding the book written by his daughter.
I also haven’t read Kenneth Slawenski’s 2011 biography J.D. Salinger: A Life, which came out long after I’d resigned myself to waiting patiently for the subject’s death.* (I made the calculations… being 55 years younger than Salinger, barring a horrible accident, the chances were pretty good that I’d live to see the posthumously published works). And, anyway, I was never really interested in learning about J.D. Salinger the man. I wanted more of the Glass family.
The 1963 collection of essays, edited by Henry Anatole Grunwald and entitled simply Salinger: A Critical & Cultural Portrait, is the book which provided the foundation of my Salinger research. Originally published by Harper & Row in 1961, mine is the small Pocket Books paperback edition. It includes a number of essays published by the likes of John Updike, Alfred Kazin, Joan Didion and contains an introduction by the editor. It was from this little book that I learned about Hapworth 16, 1924, the last short story Salinger ever published. It’s a strange little story (which I can’t imagine the magazine agreeing to publish if the author hadn’t already received so much critical attention) that takes the form of letter home from camp written by a young and precocious Seymour Glass. Salinger: A Critical & Cultural Portrait also contains the TIME magazine article which states that “a friend reports that Salinger intends to write a Glass Trilogy” and provides a brief overview of Salinger’s military career – a period Slawenski’s biography seems to have covered and the new documentary expands upon. Less exciting (for me) was the information that the Caulfield family had a cycle of short stories, similar to the Glass family which were cannibalized and consumed by The Catcher in the Rye. There are about four of these – two only accessible to the public through Princeton University Library – and they all seem to contain major discrepancies from the final novel: name changes, variations on the cause of Holden’s younger brother’s death (heart condition, drowning, and finally leukemia) and some timeline issues. For Salinger the two families, Glass and Caulfield, were a constant work in progress. He couldn’t let them go.
The fact that Salinger continued to write in isolation shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone with even a passing interest in the author. The real surprise would have been learning that after all these years of waiting he had left behind no manuscripts whatsoever. Or that he’d left instructions to burn the manuscripts. *shudder* Rumors of his continued work have been persistant. Even my little 1963 paperback mentioned House of Glass – the supposed working title for the epic Glass family history that’s apparently been years in the making. So the New York Times article published over the weekend regarding the release of new works between 2014-2020 is mildly exciting – but for those of us who have been waiting patiently it raises a lot of questions.
If David Shields, Shane Salerno and Slate.com are to be trusted, and there’s no reason at this point to believe otherwise, we have confirmation that there are 5 books and instructions as to when they are to be published. And that among these manuscripts is a novel The Family Glass. But how much of the work will be entirely new? Is this novel a re-working of the early Glass stories – like what happened with Caulfield stories in the writing of The Catcher in the Rye - or a continuation? We’re also told that there will be more stories featuring members of the Caulfield family. We’re told definitively that these will include new stories, as well as the re-packaged older stories. Have the continuity issues been resolved or will they be preserved?
Which leads to the next logical question: who will act as editor? Considering most of the famous short stories were published in The New Yorker and edited by William Maxwell this is of real interest to fans. Or it should be.
OK, I lied. This is all more than mildly exciting.
It’s been three year since J.D. Salinger died and I’m still making mental calculations. If the timeline is right I’ll be under 50 when the last of the new books is published. Hapworth, 16, 1924 appeared in The New Yorker close to a decade before I was born. I’ve been waiting since I was 14 years old for a new book or story to see the light of day. That seems strange. (“Sad!” my husband says, looking over my shoulder). And inexplicable. Because I’ve read better authors. There are plenty of books out there with more sophisticated plots. Yet I continue to love Salinger’s stories. I still want to know what happens to the characters. So do a lot of other people! (I yelled that last bit back at my husband).
If you’re one of them I’d love to hear why. Are you planning to see the documentary? Are you Team Glass or Team Caulfield? If you’re looking forward to new books and stories, do you have any expectations? Or do you think Salinger was a big phony? Comments are open below… and it looks like we have at least two more years to fill them.
*Don’t you judge me!