If you’re a J.D. Salinger fan, you’ve probably already heard the (alleged) news that he left five books ready to be published, beginning as soon as 2015.
So says “Salinger” by David Shields and Shane Salerno, a new biography whose cover touts it as “the official book of the acclaimed documentary film” -- though how a documentary that won’t be released until next week can already be “acclaimed” is beyond me. (Salerno is the film’s director, producer and writer, and Shields has published 15 books.)
Two separate anonymous sources provided the information about the forthcoming Salinger publications, the authors say. Take that as you will.
As for the rest of the book: Unless you’re a Salinger completist, feel free to skip it.
Organized as an oral biography, it features interviews with Salinger friends such as Paul Fitzgerald, who saw terrible service in the army with him during World War II, and A.E. Hotchner, who played poker and went to jazz clubs with him after the war, as well as some neighbors from his years of seclusion in Cornish, New Hampshire.
One fascinating section is told in the voice of Jean Miller, who met Salinger in Florida when she was 14 and he had just turned 30; they had an intense friendship for 5 years until he dumped her the day after they had sex for the first time. Salinger’s own voice jumps out of the letters he wrote her, which are excerpted.
But overwhelming these interviews are quotes from academics, journalists, people who know people who once met Salinger, earlier biographers and authors who have nothing to do with Salinger but have written books about World War II or Jews in combat.
There are quotes from previously published articles and a memoir by Salinger’s daughter, Margaret -- which you wouldn’t realize aren’t new material unless you flipped back to the notes.
Actually, there’s so much misleading garbage you have to read with one finger stuck in the source notes and another in the biographical notes to have any idea what’s going on (and don’t bother looking for an index). Otherwise you might fall for baloney like this:
“JOHN C. UNRUE: There was an estrangement between Jerry and his father. He commented far less about his mother. He once joked, ‘My mother walked me to school until I was 26 years old. Typical of mothers.’”
You would be forgiven for thinking John C. Unrue was Salinger’s friend, or at least someone who knew him. But if you turn to the biographical notes at the back of the book, you learn that he’s “a professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the author of ‘J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.’”
Did Salinger crack that joke about his mother while shooting the breeze with a man who wrote a cheat-sheet about his famous novel? Doesn’t seem likely, but the authors don’t provide a source for the quote. I guess that means they interviewed Unrue, but what’s his source since it probably isn’t firsthand knowledge? We’re left in the dark.
Eberhard Alsen, “who undertook extensive research throughout Europe and America as a consultant to this book,” as the authors tell us, comes up with these unmissable gems:
“Also, both Salinger and Holden are six feet two and a half and both are loners.”
(This information about Salinger’s height is so crucial that Alsen repeats it on the very next page.)
“When Salinger shows distaste for Hollywood and the movies, it shouldn’t be construed as meaning that he hates movies as a form of art; after all, he had an enormous movie collection.”
“I think Cornish was a castle to which he retreated; it protected him from the rest of the world.”
Too bad it couldn’t protect him from this book.
(Laurie Muchnick is the book editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own.)
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org.