Cultural Revolutions

We Hardly Knew You

First, you realized that “Holden Caulfield” wasn’t innocent anymore; then, that he was old; then, that he is dead.  J.D. Salinger was 91 when he passed away recently in Cornish, New Hampshire, and that means not only that he had been disappeared and aged for a long time, but that he never was young even when we got to know him.  Salinger was born in 1919—he was a grown man when World War II began, and the real story of his life has to do with D-Day, the Hürtgen Forest, and Bastogne.  When he wrote “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” (1948) and “For Esmé—With Love and Squalor” (1950), he was writing, though not always obviously, about the psychic wound of brutality, innocence lost.  The regression of The Catcher in the Rye (1951) was so nicely turned that, 65 million copies later, there’s not much point in attempting any evaluation of that text, because it is its own reality and even cult.

For my own part, I owe a debt to Salinger because of the way I ran into him.  I heard my father and one of my uncles talking about Nine Stories and the novel, and the next thing I knew, I had copies of both.  I was considerably younger than the “sixteen” of Holden Caulfield, but I learned some things from his creator: A writer gathers his stories, and he writes a novel.  A writer is a man walking around now.  And he thinks about some of the...

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