J.D. Salinger: A Life by Kenneth Slawenski

The reclusive writer outfoxes his biographer.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Few writers were more reclusive than J.D. Salinger. He intentionally destroyed decades of correspondence, sought to remove his early stories from the public eye and resisted giving out information about his personal life. It may seem strange, then, for someone like Kenneth Slawenski, an unabashed Salinger fan, to attempt a biography of his hero, when his hero only wanted to be left alone.

Slawenski's research is extensive, illuminating Salinger's writing by tracing its possible origins to his personal experiences and psychological development. The combination of interviews, early correspondence and contemporary historical accounts present as complete a portrait of young Salinger as can be imagined.

Once Salinger retreats into a sort of seclusion—as both a person and as an author—Slawenski's book loses a lot of its drive. The work reads more like literary analysis than biography, falling back on Salinger's fiction in an attempt to extrapolate facts. The final 30 years of the writer's life are covered briskly in the final 30 pages of the book, meaning the reader learns frustratingly little about his affair with Joyce Maynard, who became his third wife; his relationship with mentor/editor William Shawn; and most important, what became of the decades of unpublished writing Salinger may or may not have left behind. Perhaps there was too much of a rush to publish this biography to mark the first anniversary of Salinger's death, or maybe the famed recluse simply outfoxed anybody hoping to provide a comprehensive biography.

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By Kenneth Slawenski. Random House, $27.