Passing of an Icon

I’d like to not write a mediocre piece on Salinger. Death, a subject we writers pull from often, ironically, is tough when you’re talking about an icon who shaped the voice and face of so much literature for so many authors in the 20th century. Two nights ago, my roommate and I were having an argument about Salinger. My roommate is a poet and professor and gets rather emotional in the best way possible about literature and he was saying that he is worried because as his semester as a professor starts, the majority of his students seem to be less and less well read as the years go on. “Most of them love Catcher in the Rye but haven’t even read Franny and Zoey,” he told me. Then the next day BAM Salinger is dead. I’d like to think our conversation was doing Salinger some justice, actually. Any way you cut it, everybody loves that moment in their red cover edition of CITR (Catcher in the Rye). Why? Because Salinger gave us honesty. He gave us simplicity, he gave us truth.
It’s rumored he has been writing, by hand, all of these years while holed up in the little cabin in New Hampshire, and even if the works never see the light of day, which I have a strong inkling they will indeed, the fact remains. A real writer, who was amongst us living has now passed. We have lost one of our own.

  1. James Robison

    Lovely piece.
    Thank you, Nicolle.
    I hadn’t read him since the 1960s and then on Wednesday, who knows why? checked Franny and Zooey out of my college library and was reading that book about the time its author was dying. Disturbing coincidence. What I found in that text, this time through, was a writer who adored his characters, more than he cared for his readers, and it struck me with great force that such an artistic stance was unique and irresistible and, I’m sure, uncalculated. That quality alone would not be enough, of course, to make a writer so important, great, imperative for American readers. It is what the Glass family/people were up to that came into focus for me suddenly, all at once, and on that somehow last night. Their quest was for the kind of transcendence that is necessary for survival, nothing less, and their curse was to be bright enough to understand in their childhoods and teens a dark wisdom that visits, typically, only the very old about the futility, the embarrassing vanity, the constant mounting losses that make up daily life. They were not even afforded the kind of comforting delusions of the great thought-system of their day, existentialism. Theirs is the largest, and most terrifying, subject to write about but to be in the company of Seymour and Buddy and Franny and Zooey is comforting and Salinger’s gift to kindred spirits. In fact, I want no more from him: not photos, tell-alls, explanations, revelations, invasions, not even more writing.

  2. gary percesepe

    once, in a particularly dark time, i was practicing losing everything when the cct came up to me. her name was fluffy, and i had bought her for my daughter. i was reading franny & zooey, at the pool, a book i had managed to ignore till that time. and the cat, and the story, and the pilgrim’s prayer all came together for me in a way that hasn’t happened since.

    and i think that salinger wrote his way out of this world, word by word, in a turn toward the interior that cannot be understood nor criticized as a literary act (an act of literature!) but only as a human act. he chose silence, and looking around today, maybe that’s not such a bad choice–idiots abound, and many have megaphones.

    as for his preoccuption with the glass fam–to lose oneself in ones character requires characters so rich and deep and seemingly fathomless that to prefer their company to the company of strangers can make sense. i’m not that rabbit angstrom fits the bill in this regard, which is perhaps why updike (among others) took exception, but then, really, do any of us really know where our characters come from?

    in the end, we are referred (always) back to ourselves when we write, and salinger, at least, preferred to stay there.

    so what. he gave us one timeless novel, a collection of nine remarkable stories, and a family we little understand or have come to terms with even today.

    not bad.

    thanks, nicolle–

  3. gary percesepe

    um–that’s cat, above, not cct

  4. finnegan flawnt

    yeah, nicolle, james, gary, that’s the stuff – i really enjoyed reading your different personal perspectives. so much more than what the NYT had to say (and others). JDS does not loom as large in my literary metaverse as it should perhaps. it feels as if your posts might change that. thanks!

Leave a Comment