Today, J[erome] D[avid] Salinger, famed worldwide for his one novel The Catcher In The Rye (and, to a lesser degree, for such classic stories as “A Perfect Day For Banafish” and “For Esme With Love and Squalor”) reaches the age of ninety. If he’s having a party, it’s certainly a very private affair – as has been his entire life since he moved to New Hampshire in the early 1950s.
There have been a dozen or two writeups about the birthday in recent days at various newspapers, all of them assuming that Salinger has published nothing since his novella “Hapworth 16, 1924” appeared in The New Yorker in 1965. But there’s still a lingering question as to whether that extremely unusual work of fiction in fact constituted Salinger’s final printed words to the world.
In 1985, the venerable magazine Saturday Review published its last ink-on-paper issue after a 61-year run. (It was briefly revived as an online journal in the 1990s, but that’s another story for another day.) The editor of that final issue – none other than TNN’s own Frank Gannon – included among its contents an article by a young writer named Mark Phillips. Phillips described, in most fascinating detail, the process by which he came to the conclusion that it might well be possible that, in 1971, Salinger had seen fit to publish two very bizarre ruminations – that’s about the only way to describe them – under the name of “Giles Weaver” in successive issues of a long-since-defunct little magazine, The Phoenix.
The link above presents Phillips’s article and the texts of the Weaver pieces. Ever since I looked these up after reading that article more than two decades back, I’ve pondered this question. The Weaver oeuvre bears very little resemblance to anything Salinger ever put between the covers of a book, but read in tandem with “Hapworth” some definite parallels start to emerge. A few autobiographical details included by “Weaver” also intimate that the mind behind them was also the one that gave us Holden Caulfield and the Glass family; for one thing, the author refers to his father being born in the same year as Salinger’s own father (though the day of birth does not quite match).
There are also two books to consider: Joyce Maynard’s autobiography At Home In The World, which contains a lengthy account of her affair with Salinger in 1972 and 1973, and Dream Catcher, a memoir by the author’s own daughter Margaret Salinger. In both these books, Salinger expresses rather cynical views about American society in the Nixon era which are quite similar to the opinions Giles Weaver articulates. Could the two be the same? It’s a conundrum that, perhaps, will be solved one day.
And in other literary news, sad tidings from Mexico of the death of Donald E. Westlake, one of America’s finest (and frequently funniest, and, when he was writing as Richard Stark, most chilling) writers of crime fiction – though perhaps best known to a wider public for the 1970s films made from his novels The Hot Rock and Bank Shot.