Today, alas, he’s 91 and dead. Salinger passed away of natural causes, according to his son, at his remote compound in Cornish, New Hampshire.
J.D. Salinger was a recluse for what counts as a very long time in the recluse business: nearly 45 years. His last published work, the short story “Hapworth 16, 1924,” appeared in The New Yorker in 1965. Friends of Salinger sometimes argued that he wasn’t really a recluse — he just didn’t want to interact with the public. That may be, but the upshot is that he refused all contact with the press and with fans for nearly half a century.
Salinger has popped up in the news over the years — notably when some of his love letters were sold at auction in 1999. His agents (as in that case) would occasionally issue a “no comment” on his behalf. But he never broke his silence, never gave in for a splashy interview with Barbara Walters or Oprah, and never published again after 1965.
For that matter, there will be no memorial service, “in keeping with his life long, uncompromising desire to protect and defend his privacy.”
It’s certainly hard to parse Salinger. His novels and short stories indicated a man who was sensitive, stubborn, and who loved a dramatic gesture. I’ll stand by what I said last year: “You hope he’s happy with his choice. For the first five years, his reclusiveness must have seemed edgy and fun. But I wonder if he wouldn’t prefer a do-over on the last 40 years or so.”
Still and all, The Catcher in the Rye was a great book of its era, and a meaningful book for many young people over decades. That’s saying a lot.
Good luck, Mr. Salinger, wherever you are!