opinion
i

Abuse and the muse

High school girls like myself who were crazy about literature would have gladly given themselves up to any real, live author who happened to walk by

Yes, we girls were more prone to romantic daydreaming, including the possibility of complete (physical) devotion. I don't know whether things are still the same, but some years ago - as many as have passed since Spain became a democracy - high school girls like myself who were crazy about literature would have gladly given themselves up to any real, live author who happened to walk by.

Joyce Maynard was one of those girls. She was like me. Or like you, unwary reader, at a tender age. Neither dumber nor smarter. She had just arrived at Yale University and had published a story in a college magazine. A month later, she received a letter written in the tone, the voice and the style of her beloved Holden Caulfield, the main character in The Catcher in the Rye. The letter was signed by the book's author, although the person who penned the missive seemed imbued by the same unsatisfied, caustic, innocent, hypercritical, arrogant and vulnerable spirit as his famous character.

Suddenly, young Joyce found herself exchanging letters with the man who gave a voice to an entire age.

Young Maynard decided to drop everything and go live with Holden Caulfield, although obviously what she found was Salinger

The rest of the story is well known, as it was told by Maynard herself in the memoir At Home in the World. Joyce left Yale and embarked on a riskier mission, which she believed at the time to be nobler than being stuck on campus for four years: caring for the owner of that epistolary voice who told her things like: "I couldn't have created a character I love more than you."

Young Maynard decided to drop everything and go live with Holden Caulfield, although obviously what she found was Salinger, a 53-year-old author. The deal, as any mature person could have predicted, was uneven: Maynard was giving up her life, and Salinger was giving up on nothing. The relationship became an indoctrination of sorts, and once the master had had his fun and unveiled the secret of her innocence, he gave the not-so-pure young thing two fifty-dollar bills and sent her away. Joyce's emotional baggage was contradictory: she had the nagging feeling that she had been used, but strict orders from the master not to unveil any aspect of his private life, which as all his followers knew, was sacred. And certainly, his readers considered him to be some kind of saint in spiritual retirement.

Now, with distinctly un-Salingeresque hype, we are being offered a new biography, a documentary and the extravagant promise of previously unpublished material that will start to emerge in 2015, following the writer's wishes. If that were the case, then Salinger would be not so much a hermit as an extraordinary manipulator of his own posterity, an expert in marketing. Personally, I don't know what else we can learn about the genius. I will naturally read these new unveiled mysteries about his life, but I'm not sure I will feel comfortable doing so. It's not out of respect for him, since at this point he couldn't care less; it's more like a feeling that each new detail about his life will just add to his image as a manipulative and somewhat sordid type.

Joyce recently published an article in The New York Times titled: "Was Salinger Too Pure For This World?" She herself replies with a resounding no. The pure, innocent creatures were the girls in love with his literature whom he reeled in from his secret location. The thesis backed by the authors of the new biography, Salerno and Shields, is that World War II post-traumatic stress led the writer to detest this corrupt world and engage in a tireless search for purity.

Purity happened to be found in girls aged 14 to 18. And it didn't last long, either. Once he had had his fill and appreciated the first signs of maturity or corruption in them, he sent them packing.