J.D. Salinger, Failed Recluse

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June 29 1999 3:00 AM

J.D. Salinger, Failed Recluse

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

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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.

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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.

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