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J.D. Salinger: A Life

Kenneth Slawenski.
Publisher Random House  
Format hardcover
Product Dimensions 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.25 inches
ISBN 9781400069514
Pages/Publication Date 451/2010
Daedalus Item Code 34160
This item is not available.
The author of The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger eluded fans and journalists for most of his life, making himself one of the most mysterious figures in American literature. In his youth he wrote hoping for success and fame, but he returned from World War II as though he had seen hell itself, and thereafter wrote to keep the real world at bay. Yet in this biography, originally published a year after Salinger's death, "a true picture of Salinger emerges," appraised Peter Ackroyd in London's Times. Kenneth Slawenski, founder of the website DeadCaulfields.com, spent eight years mining not only the facts of Salinger's life but also the meat of his writing, and synthesizes a realistic picture of the author that he himself scrupulously refused to give.

"Slawenski has read everything that can be read and has constructed a surprisingly coherent version of a life that is likely to remain clouded with uncertainty for decades to come. What emerges from Slawenski's reading is two different lives divided by one cataclysmic event: WWII. Before the war, Salinger was a struggling writer from a well-to-do New York family who was driven by ambition to become famous. Then came the war, during which Salinger, a sergeant in the army, was transformed by chance into a kind of nightmare version of Zelig, turning up in all the wrong places: Utah Beach on D-Day, where two-thirds of his division were killed; the disastrous ambush in the Hurtgen Forest; and the snow-misted horror of the Battle of the Bulge. Throughout the war, Salinger continued to write stories, and gradually, Slawenski argues, he became another kind of author altogether, a man who wrote not for fame but as a kind of meditation, fiction as prayer. With the success of The Catcher in the Rye in 1951, fame itself became Salinger's new nightmare, driving him deeper into his wartime psychology. From the point of view of a man who wrote to block out the world, Salinger's decision to stop publishing altogether makes perfect sense.... Slawenski's life of Salinger makes at least speculative sense of a seemingly unknowable story, one that has beguiled readers for more than 50 years. That alone makes his book must reading."Booklist (starred review)

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