J.D. Salinger: The Escape Artist

Thomas Beller. New Harvest, $20 (192p) ISBN 978-0-544-26199-0
Rather than writing a straightforward biography, Beller (How to Be a Man) offers here an exceptionally well-researched, deeply felt, and thoughtful exploration of the elusive author’s history, in which he probes Salinger’s life and prickly familial ties, and their manifestation in his timeless characters and settings. Salinger’s decades of withdrawal from public life made him first a writer, “then a myth” that sharpened public curiosity. Beller ponders why Salinger’s retreat to New Hampshire in 1953 provoked such a strong reaction within the literary establishment and popular discourse, observing that however much comfort his solitude afforded him, “by exiling everyone else he left himself with the crazy people” who let neither the writer nor his reputation alone. Salinger’s successful legal disemboweling of Ian Hamilton’s analysis of his correspondences—and the tepid book that resulted —loom large for Beller, who meditates on the nature of writing this book, noting that “the aura of trespass is strong around Salinger.” Beller manages to respect that fact, even as he diligently obtains a proof of Hamilton’s original text and other “samizdat Salinger” stories, making pilgrimages to the author’s boyhood summer camp and his family’s Upper East Side apartment, and rounding out a portrait of a difficult personality while respectfully communing with both the subject and his work. Agent: Mary Evans, Mary Evans Inc. (June)
Reviewed on: 04/14/2014
Release date: 06/03/2014
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