Okay. So it's like this. My not-just-GR-friend-but-very-real-friend brian called and told me that J.D. Salinger had died maybe about a half hour ago (as I begin this 'review'). This sounds immensely absurd, pathetically sentimental, and embarrassing to admit, but I'm glad I heard it from him and not from some animatronic talking head with chin implants and immobile hair on the nightly news or from an obnoxiously matter-of-fact internet blurb, commenting like a machine on how Holden Caulfield has lately become less relevant to Generation Y or Z or AA or whatever stupid generation we're up to now.
At first when brian told me, I thought, 'Oh, well... He was old. He was (probably) batshit crazy anyway. It was his time to check out, I guess.' Really. What difference does it make? He's been dead to the world since the mid-1960s. Before I was even born. A strong case could be made that he truly died in spirit when he started stalking Elaine Joyce on the set of 1980s sitcom Mr. Merlin. And yet... I still clung to this (still technically living) legend as if he were some kind of talisman I could wear around my neck, a good luck charm to ward off phonies and all manner of soulless dreck who populate this despicable world, writing 'fuck' on grammar school walls (and metaphorical equivalents).
After returning for a few minutes to my soul-deadening job, which -- when you really get right down to it -- is just another way of killing time until I join Salinger in oblivion, I started getting all funny-feeling about it. At the risk of sounding like an adult contemporary power ballad written by Jim Steinman, with synthesized violins in the background, I began to feel as if my adolescence had finally come to an end. I guess it's about time. I'm thirty-eight years old, and yet I look at the people who are my age -- hell, who are even much younger than I am -- and who appear in all particulars to be adults, and I grow frightened/alarmed that they've graduated to the 'next level': they're mating and spawning and drawing up wills and completing their own tax returns and investing money and dealing (gracefully -- or with stoicism?) with the deaths of friends and relatives... and even some of them have died themselves of terrible diseases -- the kinds of diseases which are not content with merely claiming lives but which demand the optimal human suffering (the optimal dehumanization) before they cash in.
So of course. I love all of Salinger's writing, but his value in my life has far surpassed that of a 'mere' literary pastime. He has kept me company for many years when I felt left behind by the exigencies of time and the claims of 'maturity.' In my head, I still picture myself as a nineteen-year-old, and I'm shocked again and again when somehow every other moron on the planet seems to be under the ridiculous impression that I'm a thirty-eight-year-old man. With graying hair. And deepening crow's feet. What idiots!
I know all of this shit I'm saying is cliché, cliché, cliché. Lots and lots of people feel a special connection to Salinger's writing -- for just the reasons I described -- and lots and lots of people hate his writing because they find it grating and immature (Catcher in the Rye) or pretentious and ponderous (the Glass family stories). But I felt compelled to commemorate today in some way -- however trite and superfluous -- because I sense again and again (with the relatively recent deaths of some of my heroes, like Ingmar Bergman and Jacques Derrida, for instance) that I am entering a world that is no longer safeguarded by the great men and women of the elder generation; I am entering a world in which I am now the elder... with my own responsibilities and obligations. Yes, this still frightens me, but I'll always have Salinger's very particular and empathetic world to which to retreat when I have sacrificed too much of myself to a real world I'll never completely understand or feel at home in.