J.D. Salinger's death has struck a chord around the world as those who grew up with the legendary author reflect on the end of an era. What has been said about the "Catcher in the Rye" author throughout the years? Here's what the New York Review of Books has had to say about Salinger:
by Steven Marcus
Some fifteen years ago, J.D. Salinger published a story about the suicide of a young man. "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" is a sensitive little work and deserves the popularity it has won. But the incident that story describes has also become something of an obsession for Salinger. It is the central or nuclear event to which all his writings about the Glass family sooner or later refer. Franny and Zooey, published two years ago, for example, ends with Zooey reminding Franny of one of Seymour's sayings or parables and thereby bringing her crisis to an end. It acts upon her as if it were literally a voice speaking from the far side of the grave--or as if it were an oracle, a gift of grace, a revelation, or promise of things to come. It is supposed in other words to possess a religious power or magic, as does Seymour himself.
Two more of these long stories are now published in book form. "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" and "Seymour--An Introduction" both appeared in The New Yorker several years ago. Both of these stories deal with Seymour, or rather both of them deal with the problem of Seymour, since he cannot be said to be really there in either of them. "Raise High the Roof Beam," which first appeared in 1955, is about Seymour's marriage. It takes place in 1942, and is narrated by Buddy Glass, Seymour's next youngest brother, memorialist, and Salinger's alter ego. The point of the marriage is that Seymour doesn't show up for it, and the story consists of a series of conversational encounters between Buddy and several of the wedding guests. Seymour more or less doesn't show up for the story either, and one suspects, while reading it, that the author is unable to make him materialize, to bring him dramatically back to life. He does make an indirect appearance, however, through some extracts from his diary which Buddy reads in the course of the narrative. These extracts confirm all one's suspicions about the reasons for Seymour's absence from the dramatic present of the story. They are blood-curdlingly bad, and simply make a mockery of the pretension with which Seymour is offered to us as saint, poet, and general all-around genius. This disparity between the author's claim for his character and that character's actuality recalls another recent popular representation in fiction of a "genius." In Lawrence Durrell's Alexandria Quartet, a similar claim is made for the writer, Pursewarden; yet when we read the passages from Pursewareden's writings which Durrell produces, we are led inescapably to the conclusion that he is a kitsch genius. And Seymour, it appears, though he has been fabricated in a different workshop, is going to turn out to be a kitsch saint. Read More
Justice to J.D. Salinger
by Janet Malcolm
When J.D. Salinger's "Hapworth 26, 1924"--a very long and very strange story in the form of a letter from camp written by Seymour Glass when he was seven--appeared in The New Yorker in June 1965, it was greeted with unhappy, even embarrassed silence. It seemed to confirm the growing critical consensus that Salinger was going to hell in a handbasket. By the late Fifties, when the stories "Franny" and "Zooey" and "Raise High the Roof-Beam, Carpenters" were coming out in the magazine, Salinger was no longer the universally beloved author of The Catcher in the Rye; he was now the seriously annoying creator of the Glass family.
When "Franny" and "Zooey" appeared in book form in 1961, a flood of pent-up resentment was released. The critical reception--by, among others, Alfred Kazin, Mary McCarthy, Joan Didion, and John Updike--was more like a public birching than an ordinary occasion of failure to please. "Zooey" had already been pronounced "an interminable, an appallingly bad story," by Maxwell Geismar and "a piece of shapeless self-indulgence" by George Steiner. Now Alfred Kazin, in an essay sardonically entitled "J.D. Salinger: 'Everybody's Favorite,'" set forth the terms on which Salinger would be relegated to the margins of literature for doting on the "horribly precocious" Glasses. "I am sorry to have to use the word 'cute' in respect to Salinger," Kazin wrote, "but there is absolutely no other word that for me so accurately typifies the self-conscious charm and prankishness of his own writing and his extraordinary cherishing of his favorite Glass characters." McCarthy peevishly wrote: "Again the theme is the good people against the stupid phonies, and the good is still all in the family, like a family-owned 'closed' corporation.... Outside are the phonies, vainly signaling to be let in." And: "Why did [Seymour] kill himself? Because he had married a phony, whom he worshiped for her 'simplicity, her terrible honesty'?... Or because he had been lying, his author had been lying, and it was all terrible, and he was a fake?" Read More