When the famously reclusive J.D. Salinger died at the age of 91, some readers believed a flood of posthumous releases would soon follow. A year after his death, can we still hope for them?
After crafting a small canon of best-selling novels, novellas and short story collections, J.D. Salinger stopped publishing in 1965. In the decades following, he became perhaps the country’s most famous recluse, avoiding the public eye for over half a century while his work, particularly 1951’s Catcher In The Rye, only grew in stature as successive generations discovered it.
In 1965, readers surely hoped Salinger was at his home in Cornish, N.H. banging away at his typewriter on some new piece of fiction that would soon see the light of day. But as the decades drifted by, it became increasingly apparent that, if he was working, he wasn’t interested in sharing. The closest the world came to having a “new” Salinger book published was when a small press secured and then lost permission to publish a 26,000-word novella called Hapsworth 16, 1924 which had originally appeared in The New Yorker.
"There is a marvelous peace in not publishing," Salinger told the New York Times in a rare 1974 interview. "I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure."
During his self-imposed publishing exile, Salinger proved not merely a private person, but a litigious one, quick to unleash his power of attorney whenever he felt his solitude, work or reputation threatened. In 1986, he sued to stop Ian Hamilton from publishing an unauthorized biography. The book did eventually come out, but only after Salinger’s own correspondence had been excised. In 1995, Iranian film director Dariush Mehrjui produced a loose adaptation of Franny and Zooey, but Salinger was successful in preventing it from being shown in the U.S. In 2009, he prevented an unauthorized sequel to Catcher in the Rye called 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye from being published in North America, though the book was released in Britain to a critical drubbing and may still see a stateside release depending on the result of the plagiarism case still pending after Salinger’s death.
Upon his death last year, it was speculated that soon we would all see just what Salinger had been up to during the last 45 years. Posthumous releases are de rigueur for highly regarded literary authors – the estate of David Foster Wallace, who died in 2008, will oversee this year’s release of The Pale King, a novel he was working on at the time of his death. Three posthumous short story collections by Kurt Vonnegut have hit the shelves since his passing. And then there are those authors we never knew much about before their deaths – figures like Franz Kafka, John Kennedy O’Toole, Roberto Bolano and the mega-selling Stieg Larsson, just to name a few.
“I wonder now if we’ll see more stories,” novelist T.C. Boyle told USA Today last year. “I absolutely hope so. I hope he's been writing some great stories that will blow us away."
When Salinger died, there were even whispers that we might see filmed versions of his books, a concept he had been adamantly opposed to during his lifetime after seeing his short story “Uncle Wiggly in Connecticut” bastardized as the Susan Hayward vehicle My Foolish Heart. Robert Pattinson as Holden Caulfield, anyone?
A year later, all that speculation looks a bit, well, speculative.
The Salinger estate has announced no plans to release any new works. There have been no rumors about any forthcoming Hollywood adaptations. You can’t read his books on your Kindle or your iPad. Rumors are that a well-known writer recently approached the Salinger estate about producing an authorized biography but was rebuffed (Salinger’s agent, Phyllis Westberg of Harold Ober Associates, declined to comment).
A new unauthorized Salinger biography was published by Random House this week, and its author, Kenneth Slawenski, remains optimistic that unpublished Salinger works will eventually see their way into print.
“Personally, I am hopeful that we’ll soon be reading ‘new’ Salinger works,” he recently told The Christian Science Monitor. “And perhaps for many years to come.”
Holden Caulfield might disagree. “Certain things,” Salinger had him say 60 years ago, “they should stay the way they are.”