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J.D. Salinger Frets: “Writing Holden Was a Mistake”

J D SalingerAmerican Masters celebrated its 200th episode by featuring an in-depth look at author J.D. Salinger that took director Shane Salerno 10 years to research and film.

The show is fascinating.

Salinger died in 2010 at the age of 91 after living as a recluse for decades. Last published in 1964, Salinger kept writing every day for the next 40 years. He purportedly finished five more novels that are slated to be published by his literary trust between 2015 and 2020.

This is real, guys. Mysterious, intriguing, and real.

Salinger, a confident writer, saw over 200 days of combat during World War II which affected him profoundly. He began writing The Catcher in the Rye during the war and carried pages of it with him through battle. After the war he reenlisted and helped with the denazification of Germany. During that time, he married a German woman with Nazi affiliations. Later this marriage was annulled.

After the war he would be smitten again and again with young girls. Truly, Salinger was a complex, tempestuous, strange, talented, troubled man. Salerno attempts to piece together some of the reasons for Salinger’s eccentricities. He suffered a nervous breakdown after the war and seemed to yearn for lost youth and innocence. He eventually married again and had two children, but this marriage didn’t last and he was, by most accounts, unavailable as a father.

He holed up with his writing, refused interviews, and swore off publishing. Holden Caulfield’s disdain for selling out seems to have echoed J.D. Salinger’s own disdain for selling out. In fact, Holden Caulfield was very much an extension of Salinger himself, which makes it all the more disturbing that not one, not two, but three shootings were infamously influenced by The Catcher in the Rye.

Mark David Chapman carried a copy of The Cather in the Rye with him when he shot and killed John Lennon in 1980. After John Hinckley, Jr.’s attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan in 1981, police found The Catcher in the Rye with other books in his hotel room. Robert John Bardo had a copy of the book with him when he shot and killed Rebecca Schaeffer in 1989.

Who knows how this affected J.D Salinger.

But just six months before Lennon was killed, Salinger told journalist Betty Eppes in one of his last interviews, “Writing Holden was a mistake.” He had no idea about the shootings to come, but his success with The Catcher in the Rye meant Salinger couldn’t live a normal life.

After working so hard for success, Salinger spent the last 50 years of his life craving anonymity. He left an indelible mark on American literature and with the release dates of his posthumous novels just a year away, who knows how the landscape of fiction will change. Salinger’s books promise a full and complete history of the Caulfield family.

Will it be worth the wait?

Photo Source: Amazon

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