Society

"The Catcher in the Rye" Author J.D. Salinger Dies at 91

| by Mark Berman Opposing Views

Author J.D. Salinger, who created one of the most enduring characters in all of literature, has died. Salinger passed away as he lived -- in seclusion at his remote house in New Hampshire. He was 91 years old.

Salinger burst onto the scene in 1951 with his first novel, "The Catcher in the Rye." He introduced the world to Holden Caulfield, a teenager expelled from prep school on his way home to New York City. Along the way, Salinger gave us Caulfield's jaded views on life. It spoke to a generation of disaffected teenagers. And six decades later, it still does.

60 million copies of the book have been sold worldwide. It entered the pantheon of the infamous in 1981, when John Lennon assassin Mark David Chapman said "The Catcher in the Rye" inspired him to commit his heinous act.

For such an influential writer, Salinger's body of work was surprisingly thin. In addition to "Catcher," Salinger wrote just three other books -- the collection “Nine Stories” and two compilations, each with two long stories about the fictional Glass family: “Franny and Zooey” and “Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction.”

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His last published story ran in The New Yorker in 1965. By then he was increasingly viewed as a precocious child whose manner had soured from cute to insufferable. "Salinger was the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school," Norman Mailer once commented.

And then he was gone, retreating to the small Cornish, New Hampshire house for his self-imposed exile from publishing and the world. Over the years there were reports here and there that a new Salinger work would appear. But in the end, there was nothing.

In a brief, rare interview in 1980, Salinger told the Baton Rouge Advocate, "I love to write and I assure you I write regularly. But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it."

In fact, in 1999 New Hampshire neighbor Jerry Burt said the author had told him years earlier that he had written at least 15 unpublished books kept locked in a safe at his home.

Salinger was married twice -- once briefly in the 1940s to a woman named Sylvia about whom very little is known, and in 1955 to Claire Douglas. They had two children before divorcing in 1967.

In 2000 his daughter wrote a book, saying her father was an unpleasant recluse who drank his own urine and spoke in tongues. Salinger's veil of secrecy was further lowered with a book by author Joyce Maynard, who detailed her problematic 8-month relationship with Salinger in the 1970s, who at the time was twice her age.

According to Salinger's agent, the author was in excellent health despite a broken hip last May. But he took a turn for the worse within the past month, and passed away in peace.