J.D. Salinger, Failed Recluse

June 29 1999 3:00 AM

J.D. Salinger, Failed Recluse

Hey, Jerry, want your privacy? Take a few lessons from Thomas Pynchon.


J.D. Salinger is inevitably described as "the most private man in America" (Esquire) or "the most private of literary figures" (the New York Times). In the introduction to his just-published Salinger biography, Paul Alexander calls the Bard of Cornish the "one figure in the twentieth century who didn't want his biography written." Yet Salinger has already been the subject of two biographies.


If Salinger really wants to be left alone, he is going about it in a very strange way. He doesn't live in a gated community. He summons perfect strangers into his hideaway. He sues people, and then phones the media to spread the story.

Maybe Salinger should take a page from Thomas Pynchon, American letters' other famous recluse, who really wants to be left alone. Two years ago, a London Sunday Times hireling bearded Pynchon on the streets of Manhattan and nearly got his head bitten off: "Get your fucking hand out of my face!" Pynchon bellowed.

Here's the Tale of the Tape in the Battle of the Hermit Divas:

1. Location

Salinger: Salinger has lived on the same Cornish, N.H., property for over 30 years. Other than a "No Trespassing" sign, there is no particular barrier to entry, from the fictional Ray Kinsella of Shoeless Joe to the notorious stalkerazzi photographer Paul Adao of the New York Post, no one has ever had much trouble finding the place. Up until recently, Salinger used to chat casually with his doorsteppers--unless they were journalists. The next generation of visitors won't even have to interrogate the locals, as Alexander provides directions in his new book.

On the one hand, it's churlish to suggest that Salinger should move just to protect himself from his public. On the other hand, people have moved for less.

Pynchon: Until recently, no one was really sure where Pynchon lived. Seattle? Mexico? Northern California? Probably all of the above. Much ink has been shed in proving that Pynchon spent several years in California's Mendocino County researching his novel Vineland and writing letters to the local newspaper under the name "Wanda Tinasky." But that may have been a hoax.

2. Litigation

Salinger: In 1974, Salinger sued the editor of an unauthorized collection of his stories and 17 bookstores that stocked the book. Lest his filing go unnoticed, he phoned New York Times reporter Lacey Fosburgh to alert her to the case. He made Page One.


Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

U.S. Begins Airstrikes Against ISIS in Syria

The U.S. Is So, So Far Behind Europe on Clean Energy

It Is Very, Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Friends Was the Last Purely Pleasurable Sitcom

The Eye

This Whimsical Driverless Car Imagines Transportation in 2059


Meet the New Bosses

How the Republicans would run the Senate.

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

How in the World Did Turkey Just Get 46 Hostages Back From ISIS?

  News & Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
Sept. 22 2014 4:45 PM Why Can’t the Census Count Gay Couples Accurately?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
Brow Beat
Sept. 22 2014 9:17 PM Trent Reznor’s Gone Girl Soundtrack Sounds Like an Eerie, Innovative Success
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 22 2014 4:34 PM Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.