ADDED: "He was 91"... so a long detailed obituary was ready to go. You can read it at that link. Who here was not entranced by "Catcher in the Rye" at some point in their lives?
“Catcher” was published in 1951, and its very first sentence, distantly echoing Mark Twain, struck a brash new note in American literature: “If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don’t feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.”...And yes, yes, there are all those murderers who have that book in their back pocket. So don't get too entranced by it. Move on, read other things. But don't be a goddam phony.
With its cynical, slangy vernacular voice (Holden’s two favorite expressions are “phony” and “goddam”), its sympathetic understanding of adolescence and its fierce if alienated sense of morality and distrust of the adult world, the novel struck a nerve in cold war America and quickly attained cult status, especially among the young. Reading “Catcher” used to be an essential rite of passage, almost as important as getting your learner’s permit.
MORE: A big question is, now that he's dead: Are there unpublished manuscripts that we'll get to see? Will we learn more about his retreat from the world?
In 1953 Mr. Salinger, who had been living on East 57th Street in Manhattan, fled the literary world altogether and moved to a 90-acre compound on a wooded hillside in Cornish, N.H. He seemed to be fulfilling Holden’s desire to build himself “a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made and live there for the rest of my life,” away from “any goddam stupid conversation with anybody.”Or do we you really want to hear about it anymore, now that all these years have passed, years of a hermit life almost as long as my whole life? (And I'm pretty old.)
Well, there will be no more goddam stupid conversation with anybody anymore for him, but I've got to say I hope he held up some kind of one-sided end of a conversation with us for the past quarter century and we'll get some more readings.
But was he writing? The question obsessed Salingerologists, and in the absence of any real evidence, theories multiplied. He hadn’t written a word for years. Or like the character in Stephen King’s novel “The Shining,” he wrote the same sentence over and over again. Or like Gogol at the end of his life, he wrote prolifically but then burned it all up. Ms. Maynard said she believed there were at least two novels locked away in a safe, although she had never seen them. Quote TK from Salinger’s agent about surviving manuscripts, if any, and plans for them.Ha ha. That last sentence is now edited out of the NYT obit at the link. Come on, TK!
Mr. Salinger was controlling and sexually manipulative, [Joyce] Maynard wrote, and a health nut obsessed with homeopathic medicine and with his diet (frozen peas for breakfast, undercooked lamb burger for diner). [Margaret] Salinger said that her father was pathologically self-centered and abusive toward her mother, and to the homeopathy and food fads she added a long list of other exotic enthusiasms: Zen Buddhism, Vedanta Hinduism, Christian Science, Scientology and acupuncture. Mr. Salinger drank his own urine, she wrote, and sat for hours in an orgone box.Ugh! Maybe I don't want to read anything more.