Reflections On JD Salinger

By Jack Engelhard

[I wrote and posted this reflection on Salinger back in August on my blog at Amazon. Except for the news that was current at that time, the rest of this piece holds true for me, as, I’m sure, it holds true for so many other readers and writers who loved Salinger, and are today so saddened by word of his passing. A writer like this comes around only once in a lifetime, Thank you — JE]

Salinger can’t hear? That’s hard to take.

Do we really need to know that JD Salinger “is now totally deaf?” That’s a quote being attributed to someone who knows him.

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.

This is a man, Salinger, who’s kept himself fiercely reclusive for an entire generation – and there is no counting the number of writers who owe him allegiance. Along with Whitman, Twain and Hemingway, Salinger liberated American literature. I don’t think I could have written “The Girls of Cincinnati” without getting Salinger’s permission.

Salinger did not influence me, but he did inspire me.

(Novelists tend to be influenced by their forefathers at the start but eventually they have to let go and go it alone.)

We know almost nothing about Salinger 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 went to court to stop publication and distribution of an alleged rip-off of “The Catcher in The Rye.” Salinger’s argument has always been that his writings do the talking. That is all we need to know about him.

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