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Culture

ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Jour de cauchemar pour le poisson-banane

by Alain Nicolas

A Nightmarish Day for Bananafish

Translated Monday 1 February 2010, by Gail and reviewed by Henry Crapo

David Salinger is dead. For generations of readers and authors he was the very figure of the American writer.

When one thinks of his name, it’s because he invented the words "cult book." Or also for the most celebrated of his works The Catcher in the Rye. Since 1951, Salinger’s only real novel has become, throughout the world, the emblem of eternal adolescence. We know that Mark Chapman, who killed John Lennon, had the book in his pocket. When the police asked for his identity, he replied, "Holden Caulfield," the name of the hero of that work, which was almost thirty years old. Less known is that it was also the case with John Warnock Hinkley Jr., the shooter who tried to gun down Ronald Reagan. If one adds that, two years after its publication, the author decided to escape the curiosity of the media, to refuse all interviews and even all photos, one is left with the elements of a literary legend, at least those elements that one doesn’t invent.

The Catcher in the Rye, however, like all of Salinger’s work, is the exact opposite of searching for the sensational. It owes its force to the extraordinary capacity of the author to make his character an attractive object of identification. Generation after generation, all the young have been Holden, the adolescent figure, or the Seymour Glass of Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, who refused to go to his own wedding in order to ’live higher.’ Salinger is the novelist of the day-to-day, of those who submit to it and of those who try to escape it. He infuses it with all the insight, tenderness and bitterness of an autobiography of America.

His life began on New Year’s Day, 1919. Nothing distinguished it, at first, from that of an ordinary American writer. Jewish father, executive in the industrial meat business, Irish Catholic mother, education without conviction in a prestigious military academy, trip to Europe. But instead of France or Italy, it was in Poland that the young Jerome David Salinger made his calamitous formative stay, in the country of origin of his father, and in the same line of work, the meat industry. In a writing workshop at the University of Columbia he made himself noticed. His first novel, The Young Folks, appeared in 1941. Then it was a hard, open war during which, however, he managed to write and publish several articles in The New Yorker. In 1948 he triumphed with A Perfect Day for Bananafish, which recounts the suicide of Seymour Glass, one of his recurring heros. Then it was The Catcher in the Rye, two days of wandering with Holden Caulfield, a sixteen-year-old adolescent who leaves his small town for a fabulous but hostile New York City. Sixty million copies sold to date. There followed For Esmé — With Love and Squalor in 1953, Franny and Zooey in 1961, and Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters in 1963, new books that consolidated the success of the author and his influence on generations of writers worldwide. It’s said that since 1965 he hasn’t stopped writing. Will Salinger continue to surprise us from the beyond?


Bibliography in Brief:

- 1951. The Catcher in the Rye, the wanderings of an adolescent New Yorker, Holden Caulfield, expelled from his school, told in the first person, in a casual style.

- 1953. Nine Stories, among which the hilarious De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period, about a teacher of art courses by correspondence and his not always talented students.

- 1961. Franny and Zooey, the beginning of the cycle of stories about the Glass family. Brother and sister, in their twenties, aid each other in the face of a feeling of empty existence.

- 1963. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction, two novels about the suicide of Seymour Glass, in which allusions to Buddhist philosophy begin to multiply.


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