The audio version of “That Salinger Thing”, appears below. Just click on “play”.
I didn’t like Catcher in the Rye so much. I didn’t hate it, I just didn’t think it was all that. Even after doing the requisite reading and re-reading at different points in my life I still don’t get the big fuss. To me Catcher is a pithy little story that while mildly entertaining certainly wasn’t worth the myriad analyses that have flitted about the high levels of the intelligentsia lo these sixty some odd years. I mean, teenage angst and rebellion wasn’t exactly a new phenomenon even as far back as the thirties and forties. That doesn’t mean like millions of other people I don’t idolize Salinger, I certainly do.
Salinger’s Holden Caufield makes me want to reach through every metaphysic layer of creation into Salinger’s imagination and strangle him, however, I absolutely love every other character found in Salinger’s limited catalog. 9 Stories has given me countless hours of enjoyable entertainment. For Esme – With Love and Squalor in my opinion is one of the best short stories to come out of the twentieth century. (My 5 Tales is a complete rip-off of Salinger’s title. I’m not proud.) I look with gleeful anticipation towards the release of his never before seen work and also plan on reading David Shields and Shane Salerno’s new biography aptly named: Salinger, although, I’m hesitant to do so. If you’ve read my blog post The Thing About Biographies then you know I do not suffer inaccurate biographies gladly and from the reviews of Salinger, it sounds as if I may be disappointed and I don’t want that especially when it comes to this particular man’s life.
Unlike scads of doting Salinger pilgrims I have never had the desire to seek out his stomping grounds even though I live in and amongst them. But, this past summer as Shields and Salerno were doing press junkets, I started to get curious. So much mystique has been built up regarding Salinger’s reclusiveness I do have to admit it’s hard to resist investigating, especially since I live so close to his Cornish, NH lair.
So, one Saturday afternoon I tossed the kids in the sled and took off in search of Salinger’s spirit. I was determined like all those aforementioned pilgrims to find where he lived. I really had no idea what I was doing but I know the area pretty well and just figured I’d let the wind blow me in whatever direction seemed Salinger. I also knew I would probably get no help from the locals who have always protected the privacy and mystery of his house like a national secret.
I knew from what local lore actually made it into the ethos that Salinger liked to hang out in Windsor and Hartland, VT even more so than Cornish. Going into Windsor for JD was going into town. His house was pretty remote. But, it’s well known that he enjoyed a little socialization regardless of his reclusive reputation. He crossed the covered bridge every morning in his Toyota Land Cruiser from New Hampshire into Vermont, stopped at his post office box at the Windsor post office, had breakfast at a little diner in town and did his shopping at the Price Chopper. Sometimes on the way home he would go into Lebanon, NH where you can find every kind of big box store imaginable and stop at Friendly’s for an ice cream. On Saturday nights he would show up early for the roast beef dinner at one of the churches in Hartland.
Windsor is charming and quaint in that New England-y way, but by no means is it sexy. It seems completely incongruous with the largesse of Salinger created by the public. But, driving down the main drag, I got it. I felt why Salinger would choose this place to remain for all those years. I can relate one hundred percent. I love living in the country. There are days I don’t come down off the mountain at all. But, when I do I have almost the same kind of pattern that Salinger did. I go to the post office box, I do the shopping, I gossip with the locals, but instead of ice cream, I enjoy a martini or ten over at the local watering hole before heading home.
After driving through Windsor I crossed the covered bridge into Cornish and drove right to Salinger’s house. How did I find it? I’m not really sure. I looked at some satellite pictures on the computer and I knew what road it was he lived off of. It’s a normal place with some great views but nothing to write home about. I could absolutely picture him there.
The town I live in now is about twenty miles from Cornish but I live less than a mile from where Salinger married Claire Alison Douglas in 1955. Although none of the locals here talk about him at all, I can absolutely feel his force and see why he chose to be married here. It’s a great place, quiet, picturesque and very easy to write in. It’s an escape to decide to live in a rural area, and I admit I’ve escaped. I miss New York, San Diego and even my hometown in Connecticut on occasion, but not enough to go back.
This is what I gleaned from my little trip down the Salinger road: JD Salinger was just a normal person living the small town experience, except for the fact that Salinger was brilliantly successful as a writer and I’m not, I could be him, anyone who chooses this lifestyle could be Salinger. I’m sure moving to and spending his life in Cornish was the cure for his well-documented emotional baggage packed up from the War, his childhood, love affairs etc. He wasn’t this curmudgeonly recluse who thought of himself as some kind of literary God. He was a guy who wanted to be left alone up until the point he didn’t want to be left alone. Salinger was sociable – his neighbors in Cornish referred to him as a “townie” who got involved in the community. Now, there are stories of his private proclivities, but I don’t care about that. We’re all weird in some way behind closed doors. That’s nobody’s business and I can relate to protecting it to the best of one’s abilities.
It’s not a very exciting picture compared to the legend created by the press and the public who have been steadfast in preserving the mystery and perhaps his life is better left shadowed in intrigue; we do tend to like our idols quirky and over the top. But, for me, it’s comforting to know that Salinger was just a private small town guy from a huge background and was actually personable and likeable. So, you wanna know his address and see pictures of his house? Nah, I’ve given up too many secrets already.
- Salinger, by David Shields and Shane Salerno, review (telegraph.co.uk)