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Sunday, April 25, 2010

J. D. Salinger

J. D. Salinger, the obsessively private author who captured the hearts of several generations with his pitch-perfect knowledge of adolescence and his ear for the vernacular, died on Jan. 28. "The Catcher in the Rye" is his best-known work.

Mr. Salinger, who was born on Jan. 1, 1919 in Manhattan, lived in seclusion in the small town of Cornish. N.H. for more than half a century. He was not photographed for decades.

Mr. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye" caused a sensation when it was published. With its very first sentence, the book, which came out in 1951, introduced a brand-new voice in American writing, and it quickly became a cult book, a rite of passage for the brainy and disaffected. "Nine Stories," published in 1953, made Mr. Salinger a darling of the critics as well, for the way it dismantled the traditional architecture of the short story and replaced it with one in which a story could turn on a tiny shift of mood or tone.

In the 1960s, though, when he was at the peak of his fame, Mr. Salinger went silent. "Franny and Zooey," a collection of two long stories about the fictional Glass family,  came out in 1961; two more long stories about the Glasses, "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" and "Seymour: An Introduction," appeared together in book form in 1963. The last work of Mr. Salinger's to appear in print was "Hapworth 16, 1924," a short story that took up most of the June 19, 1965, issue of The New Yorker. The story, which came out in book form in 1997, continued, and perhaps even completed, the saga of the strangely dysfunctional Glass family. In the '70s Mr. Salinger stopped giving interviews, and in the late '80s he went all the way to the Supreme Court to block the British critic Ian Hamilton from quoting his letters in a biography.

Mr. Salinger sued repeatedly over the years to protect his privacy and the sanctity of his work. In the last case, a federal district judge in Manhattan on July 1, 2009, indefinitely banned publication in the United States of a book by a Swedish author containing a 76-year-old version of Holden Caulfied, the querulous, precocious protagonist of "The Catcher in the Rye." In a copyright infringement lawsuit, Mr. Salinger's lawyers called the new novel, "60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye," "a rip-off pure and simple." The book was written by Fredrick Colting, a 33-year-old humor writer who uses the pseudonym J. D. California. Mr. Colting said he would appeal the ruling.

Mr. Salinger's carefully guarded privacy was breached in 1999 by the auction of letters that Mr. Salinger wrote in the early 1970s to the writer Joyce Maynard, with whom Mr. Salinger had a nine-month romance. It began when she was an 18-year-old Yale University freshman and Mr. Salinger was a celebrated 53-year-old author who had retreated from public life to an isolated cottage in New Hampshire. The letters were bought by the California software entrepreneur and philanthropist Peter Norton, who returned them to Mr. Salinger.

One year later, in 2000, Mr. Salinger's daughter, Margaret, came out with a memoir, "Dream Catcher," that revealed previously unknown and deeply intimate aspects of her father's life. Ms. Salinger said her father was pathologically self-centered, and that nothing could interrupt his work, which he likened to a quest for enlightenment. Ms. Salinger said her father was also abusive to his second wife and her mother, Claire Douglas, keeping her a virtual prisoner in his house in Cornish, N.H., refusing to allow her to see friends and family.

Mr. Salinger pursued Scientology, homeopathy and Christian Science, according to the daughter. He also drank urine, and sat in a Reichian orgone box, Ms. Salinger wrote. He spoke in tongues, fasted until he turned greenish and as an older man had pen pal relationships with teenage girls.

Mr. Salinger was born Jerome David Salinger, the son of Miriam and Sol Salinger, who became a prosperous food merchant in New York. He grew up on the Upper West Side and Park Avenue and attended the Valley Forge Military Academy in Pennsylvania.

According to Ms. Salinger, her father always thought his parents were Jewish but when he was a teenager he discovered that they hid from him that his mother was Irish Catholic. Still, Mr. Salinger experienced anti-Semitism, from which he developed his aversion, expressed by his characters, for the Ivy League, for "phonies."

During World War II he was a counterintelligence agent assigned to the Twelfth Regiment of the Fourth Division, interrogating POW's. He served in the most brutal campaigns of the European theater, including D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge. In 1945 in Germany he was hospitalized for ''battle fatigue.''

In her memoir, Ms. Salinger wrote that her father arrested a young Nazi Party functionary, Sylvia, then married her. The marriage was brief, and forever after he referred to her as Saliva.

Ms. Salinger's parents met in 1950 when the English-born Ms. Douglas was about 16 and Mr. Salinger about 31. At the time Ms. Douglas and Mr. Salinger met, he abstained from sex, her mother told Ms. Salinger, because he was studying with an Indian mystic who taught that sex interfered with enlightenment.

Just months before her high school graduation, Ms. Douglas married Mr. Salinger and moved with him to Cornish. Ms. Douglas told her daughter that he demanded elaborate meals and that the sheets had to be laundered twice weekly, though there was no heat or hot water. The couple had two children, Margaret, born in 1955 and Matthew, who was  born five years later and is an actor and producer in California. They divorced in 1966. Mr. Salinger then married his third wife, Colleen, a nurse, some 50 years younger than he, according to Ms. Salinger. At one point, the couple tried to have a child.

Mr. Salinger was a playful father who seemed easier in the magic world of childhood, his daughter said. Her imaginary friends were real to him, too, she said, as were the characters in his books. ''The world of fiction and reality were very blurred,'' she wrote in her memoir.


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