Monday, September 29, 2008


Ian Hamilton's controversial and legally hampered attempt at a Salinger biography is valuable for illuminating its subject's life and motivations and for tantalizingly suggesting that Salinger has multiple completed manuscripts stashed in his rural New Hampshire home. (If he doesn't burn them, we might be surprised by a Henry Roth-like flash flood of late, late and/or posthumous works.) The most eye-opening part of the book is Hamilton's discussion of Salinger's WWII service. The guy walked through hell (Utah Beach on D-Day, Runtgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge) and by the end of the war he may have been driven insane. All of this casts a long shadow over his canonical works (all written after the war; he has tried to suppress his pre-war short stories), which must now be read as emphatically postwar fiction even when, as in the case of Catcher in the Rye, they don't explicitly mention the war. Salinger, it appears, is more Hemingwayish than I have ever imagined.

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