Michael's Reviews > J.D. Salinger: A Life

J.D. Salinger by Kenneth Slawenski
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Sep 09, 2011

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Read in August, 2011

This book is as thorough an accumulation of information about Salinger as exists, I believe. It is the work of someone who has maintained a website about his literary idol for years, and that must have helped generate some of the information. What goes along with that is a lack of perspective on the writer, and only so-so insight into Salinger's actual work. Nevertheless, biographer Slawenski's devotion to his subject, aided by the man's famously publicity-shy nature, makes this a book from which anyone who appreciates Salinger will learn new and interesting details. His character names were far more meaningful and carefully chosen than I had ever realized, for example. Salinger seems to have been much like the people his stories satirized, which wasn't a total surprise but still made me squirm at times. He was also a great mimic in real life as well as on the page. And he was sensitive to the point of neurosis, just as we always assumed -- which keeps him a little more sympathetic than the plain facts of his life warrant. Interpreting that life is still guesswork, and maybe something glorious will yet emerge from whatever he wrote all those years in New Hampshire -- but doubts on that score can only be strengthened by this book. It seem a bit clearer, by the end, that, as most of his fans must have figured, Salinger's subject was limited and he wrote himself out. Unless there is something unexpectedly great in whatever manuscripts he left, I hope none of it gets published. He reportedly wrote and wrote and wrote up there, but part of me wonders how much there actually will turn out to be.
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