Have been watching the Shane Salerno documentary about Salinger on DVD. It is a somewhat shrill production, with all manner of celebrities rhapsodising about how fabulous The Catcher in the Rye is. Sure, it is an amazing book, with an amazing voice. But intriguing to imagine a life built around just one famous book. Sure, Salinger has written other things (and there is a stockpile of unpublished work), notably the stories that appeared in the New Yorker, but his reputation now rests on that one work, more or less.
Of course being a recluse sealed his fame, and yet, as one interviewee on the documentary says, Salinger “played the game”. He still got out and about in the local New Hampshire village that he retreated to. And there is something paradoxical about being a recluse – it focuses more attention than if he had just ridden it out in New York City. But Salinger simply wanted to avoid the media glare.
And what a glare it was. The DVD shows how famous the book became. There is not much to be said about The Catcher in the Rye that hasn’t already been said. It was meant to expose an America that had lost its soul in pursuit of wealth and possession, and resonates with so many maybe because there is something about our (Western, not just American) society that is deeply flawed, and something about youth that recognises this.
But then there is the darker fact that it supposedly inspired John Lennon’s assassin and Ronald Reagan’s would-be assassin. No wonder Salinger reportedly regretted writing it. Though he was also fed up with people assuming that he had some sort of answer to life’s problems, hence the pilgrims trying to talk to him at his house in the hills.