Thursday, January 28, 2010

J.D. Salinger is dead

This morning it snowed, and with the afternoon came the news that J.D. Salinger had died.

Now, let's be honest with ourselves. Those of us who really love Salinger don't love him for The Catcher in the Rye. We love him for his masterpiece: Franny and Zooey. If you don't understand that sentence, then please read this fantastic essay by Janet Malcolm.

Salinger was old. He was 91 and had sequestered himself off from public life, moving out to a secluded house in New Hampshire thirty years ago. It's no great tragedy or surprise that he's dead. But I will miss knowing he's there, just camped out in his house.

I love Franny and Zooey with all my heart. I don't love it openly, although I have listed the book on my facebook for nearly three years. My love affair with Franny and Zooey is not a public affair because people tend to shoot Salinger down for being too pretentious, too self-referential, too-white, too-something. I don't care; I'm white, and the problems presented in Franny and Zooey may be first world problems. This argument seems flawed. I don't read novels because of what "world" they belong to. I read them because they're good.

Salinger, to me, is one of the greatest masters of dialogue. When I listen to Zooey and his mom argue in the bathroom, it's like overhearing a real conversation. I can literally smell the cigarette smoke. The humor and sarcasm of these voices is exhilarating. I like to read Nine Stories on the train and when I'm forced to get out of the subway I'm always caught with a lump in my throat from needing to laugh and to cry at the same time.

I am constantly moved by the situation in Franny and Zooey because it reminds me of the way my brother and I interact, how we share tragedies by being related and attempt to buffer it off each other, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing. While I haven't called Nicholas from another room pretending to be another sibling (that would be hard because it's only the two of us) I have called him, e-mailed him, and made gestures that siblings make in order to tell one's brother: I'm here, and I was there, I've been through it too, we're in this together.

And yes, like Eli Cash wants to be a Tenenbaum I think we all secretly want to be part of the Glass family, whether we admit it or not: part of their intelligence, their sheer obnoxiousness, their wealth, their neurotic quirks . . . the list goes on. Reading Franny and Zooey in Georgia I thought, oh what caricatures these people are. Upon moving to New York I realized they are anything but caricatures. People like this exist. I interact with them every day.

Salinger's ex-girlfriend said she knew of two unpublished novels he kept under lock and key, and a reporter who somehow managed to gain access to his house a long time ago wrote that there was an entire room filled with manuscripts. Salinger, as we all know, was notoriously private and hadn't published anything since 1965. God knows what might come out of that house - and who knows if anyone will be able to secure the rights to publish it.

When I need to get off my ass I turn to Franny and Zooey. Zooey's speech to Franny about the Fat Lady is a little heavy-handed, but all in all I pretty much agree with almost everything he says. And while Salinger's work may have been about the wages of alienation, he ended up creating some pretty incredible characters that lots of people relate to. No wonder he was so freaked-out and had to retreat to the woods. I think everyone's a little phony; it's unavoidable (and some, certainly, more than others). Whatever. These books, they jump and glisten, they're alive, and incredibly entertaining to read. I never get tired of them.

So cheers, Salinger.
You may have not liked us but we sure liked you.


 ALH said...

Well said. You've inspired me to read Franny and Zooey again with your loving description. May he Rest in Peace.

Emma Kempsell said...

I really love this. Everything you said is something I believe in, and wanted to say but couldn't think how to. Really amazing.

plaisirs simples said...

ok, so i have to admit, i've only read catcher in the rye...BUT i have always wanted to read franny and zooey, and i think you just convinced me to actually go to barnes and noble, buy the book, and do it. so thank you for that!