Thomas Powers on J.D. Salinger, his retreat to New Hampshire, and the mystifying effect of his unusual life on his reputation.
You might think that the literary reputation of a writer born a century ago (New Year’s Day 1919), dead for nearly a decade (since 27 January 2010), all of whose published work had appeared by 1965, would be a pretty well settled matter by now, whatever the verdict. Judgment should be an easy matter. But the work can’t be separated from the life, and the life – the Salinger case, really – radically departs from the usual pattern. Beginning with The Catcher in the Rye in 1951, Salinger published four books which dramatically succeeded in the ways books conspicuously can: zillions of readers bought and loved them; critics admired, detested or were baffled by them, and they have never been out of print. One big success of that sort can make an author rich and famous for life but Salinger, blessed with four, instead chose to disappear. He turned his back on the excitements of New York City, where he and most of his fictional characters had been born and raised, for quiet and seclusion at the end of a dirt road in a tiny New Hampshire town. There he bolted his door to the world, answered no questions from the curious, and carried on writing books he did not intend to publish in his lifetime.London Review of Books, October 24, 2019.