J.D. Salinger would have hated every single word and frame
October 21, 2013 12:02 PM   Subscribe

Salinger Betrayed: despite their show-stopping if unattributed revelation of a publication schedule and descriptions for the author's posthumous works, Shane Salerno's tabloid-style documentary film (now recut), and the accompanying biography co-written by David Shields, have been very poorly received.
Despite all these revelations — and many others as well — both the book and the Salerno film leave you feeling dirty and a little sick. Perhaps it’s because they make us participants in the Chasing The Recluse game [...] But even Shields’s and Salerno’s brash, ham-fisted interpretation of Salinger’s life pales in comparison to what they do to his fiction. — Cornel Bonca: Salinger Betrayed
The subject of the book and documentary is not Salinger the writer but Salinger the star: exactly the identity he spent the last fifty years of his life trying to shed. Cast entirely in terms of celebrity culture and its discontents, every act of Salinger’s is weighed as though its primary purpose was to push or somehow extend his “reputation” — Adam Gopnik: Who Was J.D. Salinger?
They don’t trust the author’s work to be of interest; Salinger crassly sells his fame and deliberate mystification–about his affluence family, his WWII experience on D-Day and at the Auschwitz death camp, his persistent pursuit of The New Yorker magazine’s ratification, his marriages and relations with much younger women. Putting Salinger through the celebrity meat-grinder, this is envy-based tabloid filmmaking surreally amplified like a comic-book movie. It puts audiences through a meat-grinder. — Armond White: Salinger in the Meat Grinder
Aspiring to a sort of crowd-sourced portrait, it ends up adding cumulative noise to the myths of its subject's life without ever convincingly approaching what appeared to be the determined quietness of the reality. — Tim Adams: This cut-and-paste biography of JD Salinger fails to get anywhere near the man or his work.
There are insights that can be plucked from it, but to do so requires strenuous resistance to the spirit of the project (both book and film), which is not just leering and gossipy, but aggressively anti-literary. — A.O. Scott: The Punishment for Being Publicity-Shy
Bonus link: Dominic Smith explains a previous Salinger biography's legacy in copyright law, and the huge obstacles it's created for literary biographers
posted by RogerB (37 comments total) 8 users marked this as a favorite

 
Seeing the trailer in the theater left me feeling nonplussed. It makes what seems like a straightforward story and turns it into a tabloid thriller. Not going to be seeking the film out any time soon.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:08 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


This saddens me, as I'm quite a fan of David Shields.
posted by janey47 at 12:11 PM on October 21, 2013


I can't be too concerned about the the hypothetical feelings of a man who spent a great deal of time seducing and discarding 18-year olds from his unibomber-style shack.
posted by Gin and Comics at 12:12 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


People, you see, have this opinion about a thing. But I, I have another.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 12:25 PM on October 21, 2013 [11 favorites]


The man is dead. Do the book and movie cause harm to any living? Will this decrease how much his work is read? Is it accurate?

If the answers are no, no (or unknown) and yes, then I fail to see any issue with it. He had his privacy while alive, which I was glad to grant him. But now that he is dead, what harm is there in knowing about who he was as a person, even if it is told National Enquirer style.
posted by Hactar at 12:41 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd probably read this, and probably happily. Last year I read overly fawning Salinger bio and even though it was supposed to illuminate ol' JD as a "prophet" it had me concluding he was mostly a creepy. So I'd guess that nothing here would surprise me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:45 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Read Catcher in the Rye in high school, and wasn't very impressed one way or the other. Anything else in his oeuvre worth reading?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:48 PM on October 21, 2013


Yes, Nine Stories is very good.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:48 PM on October 21, 2013 [14 favorites]


Might be worth revisiting Catcher in the Rye now that you're out of high school. There seem to be a lot of people who think it's not a very good book for that age range, and gains considerably when read by older readers.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:50 PM on October 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


I can't be too concerned about the the hypothetical feelings of a man who spent a great deal of time seducing and discarding 18-year olds from his unibomber-style shack.

What is this in reference to? Sorry I dont 'know
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:55 PM on October 21, 2013


Certain things they should stay the way they are. You ought to be able to stick them in one of those big glass cases and just leave them alone. I know that's impossible, but it's too bad anyway.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:57 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


MisantropicPainforest, here.

Also, I agree that Catcher tends to be disliked by teenagers, who often seem disproportionately focused on whether they're meant to empathize with Holden or not. Generally, if you want to like Salinger's work, it's best to get down with reading about fairly unbearable people.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:00 PM on October 21, 2013


MisantropicPainforest: “What is this in reference to? Sorry I dont 'know”

Presumably this.
posted by koeselitz at 1:00 PM on October 21, 2013


Whoops, should have previewed. Anyway, I guess I gave you the other end of the Wikipedia-story.
posted by koeselitz at 1:01 PM on October 21, 2013


And then there's Tom Ruprecht's This Would Drive Him Crazy:: A Phony Oral History of J.D. Salinger.
posted by aught at 1:07 PM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


when I was a teen, I loved Salinger, and read every last word he'd ever written again and again. But I was probably of the last generation for whom he was relevant (actually, the reason he was relevant for was probably that I was being brought up by my grandparents). And now my peers are teachers and stuff The Catcher in the Rye down their students' throats, imagining they are giving them something relevant and real.
One day when I have the time, I'll give Salinger's work a look again. But I'd never force my kids to read his work, and I'm heading for an argument with my youngest's English teacher already next week over it.
What I'm trying to say is that I believe he was an important writer with global influence, but also one that is hard to comprehend today, and maybe that is what leads to the focus on the writer rather than the work. And maybe his life is a good story...
posted by mumimor at 1:16 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


But now that he is dead, what harm is there in knowing about who he was as a person, even if it is told National Enquirer style.

If it weren't hyped-up National Enquirer style, I would be totally interested in who he was as a person. The style is the issue for me.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:21 PM on October 21, 2013


Might be worth revisiting Catcher in the Rye now that you're out of high school. There seem to be a lot of people who think it's not a very good book for that age range, and gains considerably when read by older readers.

I'm not about to pretend I don't do it myself, but, yeah, at times, perfectly reasonable, intelligent people tend to take teenagers' opinions of literature unchallenged just because they happened to be those teenagers at some point in the past.

Like if you're in a bookstore and you pick up a book and some fifteen-year-old kid comes up next to you and tells you it sucks, how much consideration are you really going to give to that review?
posted by griphus at 1:22 PM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


In other words, it's interesting on its own without the irritatingly vacuous, breathless tabloidization.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:23 PM on October 21, 2013


I really liked Catcher in the Rye. I'm honestly not sure why it's experiencing such a backlash these days. Any chance it's an "assigned in high school" thing? Or is it something else?
posted by kyrademon at 1:25 PM on October 21, 2013


Given Salinger seemed to abhorr any publicity that he did not directly control, the details of a life which paint him as a clearly brilliant, but deeply flawed human may be disturbing to to his fans.

But mostly, the documentary made me wonder how his legacy would have been different if DUDE HAD GOTTEN SOME THERAPY somewhere along the way. Maybe.
posted by warm_planet at 1:27 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hmmm, Gin and Comics you've referenced one relationship with an 18 year old. Are there more or was that hyperbole? Mostly what you're saying is you don't respect the dead guy. Well he's dead. You've shown him.
I liked Catcher in The Rye, but I'm a cranky loner who's never fit in. Also, I always assume the creators of my entertainments are human and subject to failings. I'd rather not know who they really are. Mr. Salinger made that easy for me.
Now that I've been a little ray of sunshine I'll go back under my rock. Cheers.
posted by evilDoug at 1:31 PM on October 21, 2013


I think the problem is less that the film's sensationalism and stupidity would have enraged Salinger than that they make the film really terrible. I have watched the re-cut version (it's now streaming on Netflix), and it was somehow simultaneously infuriating and mind-numbing. Not because I have any attachment to Salinger but because it lacked any sense of nuance or proportion, failed to say anything remotely interesting about Salinger's work and its place in American literature, forced the viewer to go on repeated ride-alongs with the unbalanced stalkers who periodically tracked him down, hyperbolized his success only to increase the lurid pleasure the film-makers took in chronicling his (genuinely disturbing) personal life, added a ridiculously bombastic score, and presented all this in an incoherently scrambled timeline sprinkled with embarrassing snippets of re-enactment.
posted by unsub at 1:32 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


All of which is basically to say that I agree with the reviews linked in the original post.
posted by unsub at 1:34 PM on October 21, 2013


when I was a teen, I loved Salinger, and read every last word he'd ever written again and again. But I was probably of the last generation for whom he was relevant

I remember at about the same time I read it, or maybe a couple of years later, President GHW Bush said Catcher In the Rye was his favourite book, which I thought was weird.

What I recall disliking the most about the book was the language was slightly archaic. It's also pretty thin, too short.
posted by KokuRyu at 1:41 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just read Catcher in the Rye this weekend and I think I would have hated it if I had to read it in high school. I'd have thought Houlden was whiny and irritating and a loser. His character was my polar-opposite at that age.

But now? It's a brilliant book. It's got magic in subtlety and subtext that I wouldn't have seen if I were younger. It's not the kind of novel I'd normally read, but it's giving me plenty to think about.

(That trailer is grossly sensational. It reminds me of why I am bothered when a new article comes out on trying to discover Thomas Pynchon).
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 1:57 PM on October 21, 2013


One of my problems with it is that I just don't believe the voice. It reads to me like an adult trying to emulate an adolescent and the mask just keeps slipping.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:04 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I'm trying to say is that I believe he was an important writer with global influence, but also one that is hard to comprehend today, and maybe that is what leads to the focus on the writer rather than the work. And maybe his life is a good story...
The focus is on the writer because he was a "recluse", which really just means someone who wants to be left alone. In our media-saturated world, we cannot bear to not have 24/7 access to the personal lives of public figures. Anyone who has become famous who then chooses, for whatever reason, not to live in the spotlight is immediately the target of speculation and rumor. Whether or not the targeted "recluse" is deserving of this unwanted attention is irrelevant. Even if Salinger had shown himself to be a completely upstanding guy (and who would, when subject to this kind of scrutiny?), we would still be talking about him because he was a famous person so we want to know what kind of toothpaste he used, and it drives us mad when we cannot know.
posted by deathpanels at 2:08 PM on October 21, 2013


Hmmm, Gin and Comics you've referenced one relationship with an 18 year old. Are there more or was that hyperbole?

Yep, unfortunately there are. See for example Jean Miller, whom he met at 14, had an intense but non-sexual epistolary relationship with for five years, then had sex with once and dumped the next day (“I knew it was over. I knew I had fallen off that pedestal.”).

I usually don't find that my enjoyment of a writer's works is lessened by knowing about unpleasant things they did in personal life. For Salinger, though, it does bother me a little, because the innocence of prepubescent and teenage girls is basically his touchstone for virtue throughout his works. It adds an unpleasant dimension to that fact to realize that, in real life, he valued them only for that innocence.

Also, I'm pretty sure I've said this here before, but The Catcher in the Rye is way better when read a little older because you suddenly become able to feel sorry for Holden. If people are comparing you to him as fellow teenagers, you're going to feel a knee-jerk "I deal with bad things, so he should just deal with them too" impulse, as well as a feeling that he shouldn't complain considering how rich and independent he is; as an adult, even a young adult, it becomes possible to feel sorry for a kid running around New York City alone with nobody to stop him getting falling-down drunk.
posted by ostro at 2:09 PM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Don't forget Oona O'Neill. The documentary is already on Netflix Instant, BTW.
posted by hyperizer at 4:28 PM on October 21, 2013


Even if Salinger had shown himself to be a completely upstanding guy (and who would, when subject to this kind of scrutiny?), we would still be talking about him because he was a famous person so we want to know what kind of toothpaste he used, and it drives us mad when we cannot know.

This is really not what people are talking about when they refer to Salinger as "reclusive."

And there are plenty of writers who didn't write to and schtup teenage girls, as scrutiny has shown.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:05 PM on October 21, 2013


Read Catcher in the Rye in high school, and wasn't very impressed one way or the other. Anything else in his oeuvre worth reading?

Raise High the Roof Beam Carpenters is my favourite story ever. I think. Actually, most of his other stories are quite good.
posted by chunking express at 8:09 PM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I really liked Catcher in the Rye. I'm honestly not sure why it's experiencing such a backlash these days. Any chance it's an "assigned in high school" thing? Or is it something else?

Yeah, I think so. See also: film students and Citizen Kane.
posted by brundlefly at 8:16 PM on October 21, 2013


I quite liked the MAD review of the documentary as written by Holden Caulfield.
posted by Rev. Syung Myung Me at 11:27 PM on October 21, 2013


he was mostly a creepy.
A creepy what?
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 1:43 AM on October 22, 2013


"He was mostly a creepy creeper."
posted by simulacra at 3:02 PM on October 22, 2013 [1 favorite]


That's got to be the third time this week I've heard that kind of language being somehow related to cats, cats ownership, etc.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:53 PM on October 22, 2013


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