Margaret Atwood wrote in Negotiating with the Dead that “all writing of the narrative kind, and perhaps all writing, is motivated, deep down, by a fear and fascination with mortality – by a desire to make the risky trip to the Underworld, and to bring something or someone back from the dead.” (p.156) Perhaps it is true that writers do write for the only reason that they fear their own death. I wondered today, in hearing the news of the death of my favourite author of all time, did JD Salinger write because he feared death? I’m sure his experience on the front line in World War II made him feel like he had no choice but to write. But as far as the world is concerned, the man stopped writing after the sixties. Or did he?
I was first introduced to Salinger by way of a university course called Religion and Literature at the University of Toronto. My professor introduced me to Franny & Zooey, which continues to be the most influential book in my life. My professor said that he half-hoped for the day Salinger would die, so that maybe his writing for the past fifty years would finally be available for us to read.
Sorry, my thoughts are a bit scattered with this post.
One day, in an attempt to save our relationship, my ex boyfriend presented me with the one thing I wanted most in this world – the no longer published writing of JD Salinger. The story goes that some man in Texas had a word document that contained transcribed versions of stolen pages from back issues of magazines that had once published the stories. They were in libraries in universities, scattered across America. Salinger refused to let them be reprinted. And after all the hype about the influence of his only novel The Catcher in the Rye it seems like Salinger had it with society, retreated to the mountains and refused to let anything else be published. The man in Texas had them in a digital format, and gave them to my ex to win me back. You might have figured out the end to the story.
But I have all his stories now (I think). And I love them. And I could read them again and again.
And like my professor I am waiting for the vault to open, to have more Salinger to read. Because I can’t get enough. This man changed my life, and made me want to become a writer. I am heartbroken that he is gone and that he had such a tormented existence.
My prof once said that Salinger regretted killing Seymour in A Perfect Day for a Bananafish. Seymour Glass was exactly what his name meant. He “sees” “through” society and the shit. But at the end of the story, Seymour kills himself because he can’t stand the superficiality. But the hero is the one who sees more, and should rise above it. He doesn’t kill himself. He dies, of natural causes, deep in the forest of the mountains of New Hampshire.
Thank you JD. You changed my life. I’m sad you are gone.