By Jack Engelhard
Salinger can’t hear? That’s hard to take.
Reports are coming in that JD Salinger “is now totally deaf.” That’s a quote being attributed to his agent, whose job it is to enforce his privacy.
As I wrote in an earlier piece (“Salinger Alleges Indecent Rip-off”), I don’t know much about the law, but here, as a novelist who names Salinger as one of his literary heroes, I can say what strangeness it is to blurt out such news. I don’t doubt the truth of this revelation, but I do wonder why it got out from his gatekeepers. They must have known it would make headlines – and not in a good way.
Already there are parodies of his aging (he’s 90) and headlines that term him “frail and deaf.” (Shades of Howard Hughes?) I hope we’re not gloating.
There’s this passage to consider about a man who’s been stricken by age and infirmity and because of this, becomes the object of laughter and sport: “Wait, he used to whisper to me. Everybody gets a turn.” That’s from my novel “The Girls of Cincinnati” about a salesman, Lou Emmett, but it could have been written about a novelist, JD Salinger.
Everybody gets a turn, kids.
This is a man, Salinger, who’s kept himself fiercely reclusive for an entire generation. We know almost nothing about him except for the writing. That’s been the deal. Salinger is all about the sanctity of the novel, which is why (through his lawyers) he’s going to court to stop publication and distribution of an alleged rip-off of “The Catcher in The Rye.”
Maybe it needed to be said for legal reasons, that he’s “now totally deaf.” Probably so. But Salinger must be cringing that he’s been made public – and pathetic.
His people couldn’t stop this from getting out? Maybe not. Still, I find it strange that an image so unflattering got divulged.
They couldn’t foresee the headlines and the mockery – if indeed that quote of his deafness is correct as received?
Salinger’s argument has always been that his writings do the talking. That is all we need to know about him.
He is Holden Caulfield (still) as Flaubert was Madame Bovary.
His revenge has been his silence. For that he’s been admired, and scorned.
As for me, what’s not to like? He’s a war hero. He was in action at Utah Beach on D-Day and in The Battle of the Bulge. Later, serving in counter intelligence, he interrogated Nazi prisoners of war who’d been active in the death camps. He told his daughter, “You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose entirely, no matter how long you live.”
Salinger hates people. He especially hates the uppity New York publishing scene – this, after years of rejection before some of his short stories and “Catcher” saw print. He wrote ONE novel that’s made him more beloved (and disdained) than novelists who’ve written them by the hundreds.
Yes, sometimes it takes but one great book to secure a reputation. That is true glory and blessedness.
Like Paul Newman, his father was Jewish, his mother was Catholic. I don’t quite get the message here except that the Almighty does indeed work in mysterious ways.
We ought to delight in the fact that (at 90) we still have him with us – “totally deaf” or whatever.
To those who envy him and rejoice in his affliction, here’s the wisdom of King Solomon:
“So remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come.”
Novelist Jack Engelhard wrote the international bestselling novel “Indecent Proposal” that was translated into more than 22 languages and turned into a Paramount motion picture starring Robert Redford and Demi Moore. His latest novels are “The Bathsheba Deadline” and “The Girls of Cincinnati.” He can be reached at his website www.jackengelhard.com