The last, long stage of J. D. Salinger’s life — the unpublishing of himself — is now over. It began, more or less, when he moved to Cornish, N.H., in 1953, two years after “The Catcher in the Rye” came out. And it ended with his death this week at the age of 91.
J. D. Salinger, Literary Recluse, Dies at 91 (January 29, 2010)
J. D. Salinger Whether he expected such a substantial stretch of privacy when he withdrew from New York is unknown, as is almost everything about his private life in a place that is not nearly so remote from the world as most of his readers supposed. But then remoteness is also a matter of will, as Mr. Salinger succeeded in proving.
Publishing for him was clearly full of a susceptibility that most authors never feel. To send a work out into the world was, to Mr. Salinger, an intrusion. And so he ends up raising, in its purest form, a question that many writers have struggled with: Is it really possible to be a writer without publishing?
Mr. Salinger had it both ways. His work was not merely popular. There was an almost idolatrous quality in the public response to “Catcher” and “Nine Stories,” which appeared the year he moved to Cornish. We do not know whether Mr. Salinger retreated to husband his creativity or simply defend his privacy.
It remains to be seen whether death will now publish Mr. Salinger — whether there is an archive of his later life’s work waiting to be revealed. There was a purity in Mr. Salinger’s separation from the world, whatever its motives, whatever his character. His half-century of solitude and silence was a creative act in itself, requiring extraordinary force of will.
This is the core truth that readers — and writers, too — often struggle with. Beneath the riches of the creative life, and hidden well away from the claims we place upon the writers we care for, there is still the one life, the ordinary life, to be lived. Mr. Salinger chose to live his in a way that only he and his immediate family could observe. It is as telling a silence as the blank spaces between his sentences.