Sunday January 31, 2010
Three Stories with J.D. Salinger — Epilogue
Epilogue: The Fat Lady Sings
I have many more stories about J.D. Salinger, of course. In Mr. Wolk’s 10th-grade English class, we had to write mini-plays about one of the texts we’d read, and I wrote mine, or ours (it was a group project), about Holden Caulfield riding an elevator up Macy’s Department Store, making it, or trying to make it, all symbolic, with each floor representing an age of life. It was a disaster. In college I rediscovered the humor of The Catcher in the Rye and delved into the book several times a week. (One of my favorite lines: “I thought the two ugly ones, Marty and Laverne, were sisters, but they got very insulted when I asked them. You could tell neither one of them wanted to look like the other one, and you couldn’t blame them, but it was very amusing anyway.”) I kept having discussions with friends about the best story in Nine Stories. Twenty years ago Pete said “Teddy.” Craig has rarely deviated from “For Esme.” I keep coming back to “The Laughing Man.”
When I interviewed Jeff Bezos in 1996, and he was informing me of the future—the Internet’s 2300 percent growth rate, the sorting capabilities of computers, the 1.5 million English-language books in print—I threw him off slightly by asking about the past, Hapworth 16, 1924, a then-31-year-old story that his Web site said was being published as a book in January. Bezos recovered nicely, though. You know how amazon.com makes recommendations based upon what you’ve bought or browsed? He was like that in the interview. I brought up Salinger so he kept bringing up Salinger. When I wondered how they weeded out frivolous customer reviews, for example, he said, “It's an incredibly small number of people who actually do that. We had God review the Bible. We had J.D. Salinger review Catcher in the Rye. It was very funny. The person who did that one actually had a terrific sense of humor.” I got the distinct impression, though, even as he spoke about him, that Bezos thought Salinger was dead.
When most famous authors die, pundits and obituary writers toss around some variation of the phrase, “A great voice has been stilled.” When J.D. Salinger died last week at the age of 91, it was opposite. Now that he’s dead, we hope he’ll talk. Are there more stories? Novels? Letters? Something? I can’t pretend I’m not intrigued. I followed him to his beginnings so I’m sure I’ll follow him to his ends. At the same time I know that a week doesn’t go by when he’s not talking with me already.
Here’s to Buddy. Here’s to the Fat Lady. Here’s to moving from one piece of Holy Ground to the next.