As always, the sad news seems to come all at once. It’s being reported that the highly-private legendary author J.D. Salinger has passed away at the age of 91. The cause of death was of natural causes, and indications are that Salinger was healthy until recently when illness took on.
The author was something of an enigma. His classic, The Catcher in the Rye is a book that’s so prominent that it feels like it has been around for hundreds of years, even though it was only published in 1951. Over the past few years, just discovering that Salinger was still alive somewhere on this planet felt like some sort of fictional mythology created in his legend, but it was all so true and fascinating to think about.
Salinger himself had a story worthy of books (and a film we’re all but guaranteed to see some day). He was born in Manhattan in 1919 to a Jewish cheese salesman father and a half-Scottish, half-Irish Catholic mother. His father wasn’t big on his talents as an actor and writer and pressed that he learn business, which saw Salinger head to Austria to work at a meat-importing company. This ended up being a close call as he eventually left Austria only a month before the Nazi forces invaded and took over. Not long after this he fell in love with a girl who eventually went on to marry Charlie Chaplin.
After Pearl Harbor, Salinger was drafted into the Army and ended up being active on Utah Beach on D-Day and witnessed all of the horrors that went with it. From Normandy, he and his battalion fought their way into Paris where he met an inspiration of his: a one Mr. Ernest Hemingway, who encouraged him to write and was quoted as saying “Jesus, he has a helluva talent.”
After one more failed attempt at love with a girl who was later suspected of being a formed Nazi official (who Salinger called “an evil woman who bewitched me”), he began writing short stories before finally publishing Catcher in the Rye. It was after this that things seemed to take a strange turn for the worst. Not wanting anything to do with any kind of attention, let alone fame and fortune and all that comes with it, Salinger found a secluded little house in Cornish, New Hampshire, where he lived the next sixty or so years, rarely coming out for anything at all. (Read much more on the author’s story and see the last known photograph taken of him, clearly against his will, by heading to Daily Mail)
Now, being someone from New Hampshire, I can attest to the solitude found in these northern hills that he resided in. It was strange knowing that this larger-than-life man was living only an hour or so from where I sit, and it was even stranger for any of us to wonder what he was doing all of these years. As you can tell from his life, the stories that he might have come up with — the love stories, the World War II stories — is amazing to think about. There could be a treasure chest of literary classics, unknown to all mankind, just sitting there, unread.
As J.J. Abrams put it in the recent issue of Wired that he took part in:
The man, one of our greatest novelists, is still alive. On this planet, right now. How cool is that? Is he still writing? Has he been writing? Has he been publishing under an assumed name? Here’s an open letter to Mr. Salinger: “Dear Sir, Let’s hang out. I don’t want to bother you, but if you feel like chatting, please contact me. Love, J.J.”
Although he is now gone, we can only hope that someday soon we’ll know more about this hypnotizing tale of one of the greatest authors ever to live.
J.D. Salinger 1919 — 2010
[Source: The New York Times]