Is it wrong to wish death on a writer so that you can see what he's been up to? Such may be the case with J.D. Salinger, author of the classic "Catcher in the Rye," of course, and chronicler of the Glass family—perhaps the most exuberant, lively, forlorn, humorous, sad and manic New York City-clan ever to be put in on the page.
The Glasses, who served as the model for Wes Anderson's Tenenbaums, are of New York, a piece of the city as much as fictional inhabitants. Their stories often mirror the mid-century urban malaise. As Charles McGrath eloquently put it in the Times:
Except perhaps for Mark Twain, no other American writer has registered with such precision the humor — and the pathos — of false sophistication and the vital banality of big-city pretension.
Salinger turns 90 on New Year's Day. (You're not alone if you thought, "He's still alive?") "Catcher in the Rye" caused a sensation in 1951. His last book was published in 1963. There was one final short story published in the June 19, 1965 issue of the New Yorker (the pages of which he ruled for a decade)— then nothing. In the more than 50 years since, he has made nary a peep, living in quiet seclusion in the backwoods of New Hampshire.
As recounted in The New York Times story this week, theories as to the writer's activities abound. He's writing furiously and burning every page, à la Gogol. He hasn't written a word. Or, and here is where the wishful thinking comes in, he's pumping out page and page in his desolate country hermitage, and fastidiously filing it all away.
This last thought is made all the more tantalizing by Joyce Maynard, who lived with the writer when he was in his 50s and she barely out of her teens. In a 1998 memoir she wrote of shelves full of notebooks about the Glass family lining the walls of the New Hampshire house. But then that's the sort of thing that sells books, and we all know how accurate memoirs can be — at least this one wasn't an Oprah book, so maybe there's a chance.