In a way J.D. Salinger has really been dead for a long time. I don’t mean to sound callous, but his silence was a kind of death. He shut himself off from the world so completely, apparently never realizing that his reclusiveness would just make him even more famous. Every once in a while I’d hear rumors of a “new” Salinger novel, although, at this point, it would be like Chinese Democracy. Fans of Catcher In The Rye have been kept waiting so long that I think any new novel would be a disappointment.
For some reason Catcher In The Rye was one of those books I was never assigned to read in school. I did read it, but more out of a sense of obligation than desire. At the end of it I felt let down. I asked myself, what just happened? And then I asked, do I even care? I wasn’t that sure that I did. I didn’t understand why some people could be so hopelessly in love with a book that, even though it sounds like heresy, just didn’t move me.
And then I read Nine Stories, and, reading one of them, The Laughing Man, I understood. It’s a short story but it was denser, deeper, and more profound than most novels I’d read—including Catcher In The Rye. It’s a story about the loss of childhood innocence which, I think, might be the most profound event in all our lives. What really makes it, though, is the story within the story—the story a group of boys are told about a hero called The Laughing Man. And it’s the story that they’re told that really destroys their innocence. That’s what got me: that a story could have so much power.
If you’ve read the story, or if you go and read it now (you can find it online here), maybe you’ll feel the same way and maybe you won’t. If you don’t I hope there is something—a story, a painting, a piece of music—that affects you that deeply. Never being touched by something like that would be a kind of death.
Hail and farewell, Mr. Salinger.