Saturday 10 October 2020

Why I am so confident that JD Salinger's unpublished late writings will not be any good

I have recently re-read JD Salinger's Raise high the roof beam, carpenters (1955), and a long, mostly oral, biography by Shields and Salerno (2013)*. Raise High is confirmed in my estimation as just about my favourite short story/ novella ever - only rivaled by the same author's Zooey (1957). 

JD Salinger (1919-2010) is famous for having spent the last 50-plus years of his long life in near total seclusion and privacy - and for not having published anything at all after 1965. At present several books are apparently being prepared for posthumous publication, although nothing much is known about their content. 

To say that Salinger's late stories are long-awaited and eagerly-anticipated by his fans, would therefore be a massive understatement! Many apparently hope for some more work along the lines of the novel Catcher in the Rye; or, at least some more short stories as good as For Esme, with love and squalor (1950) or Franny (1955).

But I am personally confident that there will be no good unpublished work by Salinger. Why am I confident? Because Salinger only published his best work for a very short period between Esme in 1950 and Zooey in 1957. His earlier short stories are often fine, but nothing special; being either clunky or contrived - and lacking depth. 

And, much as a love Zooey, its ending doesn't work, and is evidence of the beginning of a decline. This was confirmed by Seymour: An Introduction - which was published in 1959. And Salinger's final publication - Hapworth 16, 1924 is really, truly, appallingly bad - embarrassing, unreadable.    

So on the graph of decline, there are three data points; and the decline was steepening such that Salinger went from fascinating but very difficult and barely coherent with Seymour in 1959, to horribly terrible by 1965.

Given the brevity of Salinger's period of genuine excellence, and the mediocrity of work outside that period; I hold-out no hopes at all, that work written after 1965 will be any good. 

Indeed, I doubt if they will be worth reading, except for documentary purposes. 


*Note: The Shields and Salerno book is well worth reading for the significant new evidence they uncover, many good interviews and memoirs printed, and photographs. But the text by Shields and Salerno - their opinions, interpretations, lit crit - is really dreadful; especially that by David Shields. As so often with modern biographers, they dislike their subject and lose no opportunity to snipe and denigrate. As so often with modern people, they regard religion (any religion - in this case mainly Vedanta Hinduism) as evidence of psychopathology. The perspective from which the book is written is mainstream journalistic wokeness - and therefore the quality of thought is inevitably incoherent, materialistic, anti-spiritual, politically-correct (in a nutshell: actively evil). 

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