Thank you, Mr. Salinger, by Peter Beidler
Thank you, Mr. Salinger
The death of J. D. Salinger left me feeling that I had lost a boyhood friend. Salinger himself was never a personal friend of mine, but his creation Holden Caulfield was. Holden was one of the very few who understood my young self, who shared my amusement in the sound of a loud fart in a quiet chapel, my sadness that young girls sometimes become hookers, my hatred of pomposity in all its smiling faces, my fear both of school and of leaving school, my desire to protect little children from falling off a cliff, my dream of someday escaping, like Thoreau, to the safety of a little cabin in the woods. In writing about Holden, Salinger was writing about me.
During the two years I worked on A Reader’s Companion to J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye I came to understand just how thoroughly Salinger and Caulfield are one and the same person. I never met J. D. Salinger in person, never made the pilgrimage to New Hampshire to knock on his door, never even sent him a fan letter. I respected his desire to be left alone. But I came to know him through his writing about me and my writing about him.
Salinger wrote one really fine book. The Catcher in the Rye sold enough copies for the next sixty years that he never really had to “work” again. He could afford to live and then die in his isolated cabin in the woods. He is gone, but we will always have Holden Caulfield, just as we will always have Huckleberry Finn. Thank you, Mr. Salinger. We’re beholden to you.
–Peter Beidler, Author of A Reader’s Companion to J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.