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J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist

Thomas Beller.
Publisher New Harvest  
Format hardcover
Product Dimensions 8.5 x 5.75 x 0.7 inches
ISBN 9780544261990
Pages/Publication Date 183/2014
Daedalus Item Code 61361
This item is not available.
J.D. Salinger published his first story in The New Yorker at age 29; three years later came The Catcher in the Rye, a novel that has sold more than 65 million copies and achieved mythic status since its publication in 1951. Subsequent books introduced a new type in contemporary literature: the introspective, hyperarticulate Glass family, whose stage is the Upper East Side. Yet we still know little about the author's personal life and less about his character, which was as he wanted it. In 1953, determined to escape media attention, Salinger fled to New Hampshire, where he would live until his death in 2010. Even there, privacy proved elusive, following a Time cover story, a memoir by Joyce Maynard (who dropped out of Yale as a freshman to move in with him), and a legal battle over an unauthorized biography. Yet he continued to write, and is rumored to have left behind a mass of work that his estate intends to publish. Thomas Beller—himself a former New Yorker staff writer, as well as a novelist and the cofounder of the literary journal Open City—is an ideal guide to Salinger's world. He gives us a sense of life at The New Yorker and a portrait of editor Gus Lobrano, whose relationship with Salinger has rarely been written about. He visits Salinger's summer camp and the apartment buildings where the author lived, and reads his famous works with obsessive attention, finding in them an image of his own life experience. The result is a quest biography about learning to know yourself in order to know your subject.

"So engaging, so funny, so witty and intelligent and wise. I had not thought it possible to learn anything more about Salinger, but Beller has done it."—Philip Lopate

"Irresistible ... endearing ... lyrical and precise.... J.D. Salinger is the story of the resonance of its subject, but it is also the story of a generous, humorous, sensitive writer, which is to say Thomas Beller. Not much escapes him."—NYTBR

"Acutely attuned to the 'aura of trespass' surrounding Salinger, Beller makes pilgrimages to Salinger's boyhood home (Beller grew up nearby) and summer camp, and considers Salinger's preoccupation with authenticity in light of the big family lie revealed after his bar mitzvah, that his mother wasn't actually Jewish. Beller reports on young Salinger's humorous writings for school newspapers and his love for his sister, who became fashion director for Bloomingdale's, a career linked to Beller's inquiry into the key roles clothing plays in Salinger's fiction. Then there's Salinger's strange, doomed marriage to a 'low-level' Nazi after serving as a counterintelligence officer in WWII and being among the first Americans to enter the concentration camps. Amid exciting close readings of Salinger's distinctly affecting prose, Beller pays tribute to the overlooked New Yorker editor he believes helped Salinger excel, Gustave Lobrano. In all, a fine and stirring portrait of a haunted literary artist who rejected 17 'different shades of white' for the cover of Franny and Zooey, stopped talking to his daughter when she wrote her memoir, and barricaded himself in solitude, a 'poet of longing,' elisions, and absence."—Booklist (starred review)

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