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Monday, September 25, 2017


Caulfield's Implicature


The film “Rebel in the Rye” attempts to understand a man who didn’t want to be understood, made by someone who is clearly a fan.

This can have its drawbacks — it’s hard to attain some level of objectivity when you are an advocate.
But it also means we have the warmest possible portrait of a chilly personality, author J.D. Salinger, an uncompromising writer who became burdened by his 1951 debut novel, “Catcher in the Rye,” now a classic.
Writer-director Danny Strong focuses on a roughly 15-year period in Salinger’s life, from the late 1930s New York, where he is raised by a father (Victor Garber) who has no confidence that "Jerry" (as he is called) will make it as a writer, and a mother (Hope Davis) who very much does (Salinger dedicated “Catcher in the Rye” to his mother), to the beginnings of a decades-long isolation in rural New Hampshire.
Jerry is a precocious brat who woos Eugene O’Neill’s daughter Oona — later the wife of Sir Charles Chaplin — and is taken down a peg or two by his writing mentor at Columbia, the brilliant editor of Story magazine, Whit Burnett.
Whit is unrelentingly tough on Salinger, and Strong suggests that without his guidance, Salinger might never have written his masterpiece.

It is Whit who urges Salinger to expand Holden Caulfield’s character, first appearing in an unpublished short story, into a novel.
To this point, “Rebel in the Rye” is just skimming the surface.

Strong’s script doesn’t quite give us an understanding of Salinger’s character.

But the film deepens after Salinger’s service in World War II.
Salinger was a soldier who was part of the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

His unit just misses the point where the heaviest fighting was — though he does see heavy action as his unit battles its way across France, retaking the country from the Nazis, and is later present at the liberation of the concentration camps — so he has a sort of survivor’s guilt that haunts him for much of the rest of his life.
While apparent budget limitations hinder the film during the war scenes, it’s what happens when Salinger returns home after the war that the movie hits a higher gear.

More determined than ever to get “Catcher in the Rye” published, Jerry has a falling-out with Whit.

His only friends seem to be his pragmatic but relentlessly understanding agent, who understands the idiosyncrasies of the creative mind; and Swami Nikhilananda, his teacher when he turns to Zen Buddhism.
What drove Salinger to retreat after the success of “Catcher in the Rye”?

Was it the pressure to follow up a book that unexpectedly made him an instant celebrity?
In “Rebel in the Rye,” Salinger is repeatedly stalked by fanboys wearing Holden Caulfield’s signature red hunting cap, and the suggestion is he fled to the woods as much for his own safety as his sanity.
Salinger probably would have hated this movie.

If Strong doesn’t quite pull it off, it is at least a film of many pleasures and a thought-provoking look at one of literature’s most famous loner.

Caulfield's Implicature


“Rebel in the Rye” is an attempt to understand author J. D. Salinger through his different relationships -- especially with charming Oona!

But while the angles are plentiful, this broad biopic of the famous reclusive author of “The Catcher in the Rye” feels like it might have benefitted from a little more focus and depth.
Director Danny Strong’s effort follows Salinger’s life in mostly chronological fashion, opening in the late 1930s as he enrolls at Columbia, determined to become a successful writer.

It is here that we are introduced to the key relationship that will drive most of the film, as Salinger meets his future mentor, creative writing instructor Whit Burnett 
Burnett is a savvy taskmaster, more than capable of handling Salinger’s abrasive personality and spouting quotable bits of literary counsel like “nothing is more sacred than story” at every turn.

He inspires Salinger’s growth as a writer, and as editor of Story magazine, eventually gives Salinger his first publishing credit.
Salinger’s love life is also a focal point, and his relationship with Oona O’Neill, the socialite daughter of Eugene O’Neill, is another key thread in the film — and Salinger’s mental health — right up until she marries Sir Charles Chaplin instead.

Oona marries Chaplin because World War II has swept Salinger away from his blossoming literary success (helmed by his agent, Dorothy Olding) and to the European front, via the Normandy beaches.
The war represents another of Salinger’s troubled relationships, though its influence eventually leads to some of his greatest work, including the first chapters of what would be “The Catcher in the Rye.”

Upon returning home, Salinger’s pre-war literary progress is derailed by post-traumatic stress disorder, and for a time, he is unable to write anything about his fictional muse, Holden Caulfield.

He also has a falling out with Burnett, but picks up another mentoring relationship under the meditative tutelage of Swami Nikhilananda.
Altogether, “Rebel in the Rye” pieces together a kind of upper class rags-to-successful literary riches story, which then goes dark once again when Salinger’s sudden fame for “Catcher” drives him and his second wife, Englishwoman Claire Douglas into seclusion.

The film is ultimately an attempt to tell the story of how Salinger became the famous recluse who never published again and tries to explore the different literary theories and philosophies that took him to that place.
Aspiring and accomplished writers will find numerous relatable themes and platitudes, including “imagine the book that you would want to read, and then go write it.”

At times, Strong’s script feels a little too ready and willing with such quote-worthy expressions, but it helps to have Spacey delivering them.
Hoult does a solid job as Salinger, and Victor Garber’s customary stoic demeanour is a perfect match for Salinger’s disapproving father Sol, who completes the relationship that perhaps drove the author more than any other.

Yet as much as “Rebel in the Rye” suggests that Caulfield is a barely fictionalized personification of Salinger himself, a study of the author’s relationship with his most celebrated character may prove the most effective in understanding the man.
There’s more than one way to learn about J.D. Salinger (the documentary “Salinger” also springs to mind), but a re-read of “Catcher in the Rye” might be the best recommendation of all.

Caulfied's Implicature


Fans of the author J.D. Salinger and his singular novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” will likely know most of the details divulged in writer-director Danny Strong’s biographical drama “Rebel in the Rye” — and anyone, fan or not, will likely find Strong’s recounting quite dull.

After an opening that shows Salinger in a mental institution, shell-shocked from what he saw as a soldier in World War II, Strong introduces the author as an ambitious, slightly arrogant individual in 1939. 

Defying his businessman father (Victor Garber) and pleasing his mother (Hope Davis), he declares he intends to become a writer and enrolls at Columbia's evening 'creative writing' class.

It’s there he encounters his mentor, Whit Burnett, who reads Faulkner aloud and urges his students to think about story first. 

He singles out the sarcastic Salinger for derision, telling him his voice, though strong, gets in the way of his storytelling. 

Burnett, who also edits the edgy magazine Story, also gives Salinger his first rejection notice. 

It isn’t the last, though Salinger hones his short-story abilities until Burnett believes his student has the commitment to be “a true writer.”

One of Salinger’s short stories — one that even gets the attention of the editors at The New Yorker — revolves around an angry  man, who like Salinger decries the phoniness of everyone around him. 

Burnett advises Salinger to expand the story and give the character, Holden Caulfield, a novel. 

"I’m a dash man, not a miler,” Salinger replies, showing doubt that a short-story writer like him can create a novel.

Then comes World War II, and Salinger says goodbye to his parents and his fickle girlfriend — Oona O’Neill, if you've heard of her, the estranged daughter of playwright Eugene O’Neill — to enlist in the Army. 

As he lands on the beach at Normandy, sees combat firsthand and hands out rations in a just-liberated concentration camp, Salinger has one thing to keep his mind occupied: the novel about Holden Caulfield.

Strong dutifully hits the high spots of Salinger’s life. He tries to imbue every checkpoint in Salinger’s story with importance, but his equal emphasis on each event — his romantic misadventures, his disputes with Burnett, his dabbling in Zen Buddhism and yoga — means that nothing stands out. 

It's as if Strong followed Burnett’s advice to his students, to read in a monotone and let the story carry the day, in screenplay form.

In the process, Strong squanders a talented cast — including Sarah Paulson as Salinger’s literary agent — and solid performances by Hoult and Spacey. In spite of the title, and the spirit of Holden Caulfield, there’s little that’s rebellious in “Rebel in the Rye.”

Caulfield's Implicature


She was the girl who got away, the one the writer of “The Catcher in the Rye” never caught.
Eugene O’Neill’s daughter, Oona, was 16 when she was introduced to a 22-year-old J.D. Salinger in 1941. A year after they started dating, he was sent to boot camp while Oona headed for Hollywood, where she became Mrs. Charlie Chaplin.
That fascinating footnote comes up in “Rebel in the Rye.” Out Friday, Danny Strong’s biopic explores the early years of Holden Caulfield’s creator. “I don’t think you could say Oona O’Neill was the love of his life,” Strong tells The Post, “but poor J.D. really fell for her.”
That she was a great playwright’s daughter was part of her allure. It was also her misfortune.
“Geniuses, for the most part, should never have children,” says Jane Scovell, author of “Oona Living in the Shadows.” She says Oona’s childhood was awful: Her mother drank and her father abandoned them when she was 2. Even so, she adored him, crying, “Daddy, Daddy,” whenever she saw his picture.
No wonder New York’s stunning, well-spoken 1942 Debutante of the Year gravitated toward older, successful men. At 17, she was not only dating Salinger, but New Yorker cartoonist Peter Arno and filmmaker Orson Welles.
Back then, Salinger was a nobody. Oona, a dark-haired, well-connected beauty, knocked his socks off.
“He was only beginning to write, and he’s dating Eugene O’Neill’s daughter and, through her, rubbing shoulders with [her friend] Gloria Vanderbilt,” says Kenneth Slawenski, author of “J.D. Salinger: A Life,” from which Strong drew for his film.
But Salinger wasn’t blind to her faults: “Little Oona is in love with little Oona,” he told the friend who introduced them.
For her part, Slawenski says, Oona believed the writer was “the greatest dancer she’d ever met.”
He also wrote wonderful letters, parts of which, Truman Capote claimed, Oona gave to her friend Carol Marcus to crib from when Carol was dating writer William Saroyan. (It worked: They wed.)
In the summer of 1942, Salinger was transferred to Georgia just as Oona moved to California. His letters to her went unanswered: Oona had met the then-53-year-old Chaplin. As soon as she turned 18, she married him.
‘Sally Hayes is Oona O’Neill. I can’t put it plainer than that.’
 - Kenneth Slawenski
Salinger only found out about it when he read it in the papers.
Furious, he sent her a scathing letter imagining what her wedding night was like with a man who was reportedly being treated with monkey glands, the Viagra of the day.
Salinger went on to fight in D-Day, an experience that scarred him forever. He came home, married the first of three wives, wrote the novel that made him famous and holed up in New Hampshire until he died, in 2010.
And Oona? She bore Chaplin eight children and was with him till his death, in 1977. After that, she divided her time between their home in Switzerland and America where, Scovell says, she had affairs with Ryan O’Neal and David Bowie.
She died of pancreatic cancer in 1991, at 66. But her young self lives on, Slawenski says, as the beautiful but conventional Sally Hayes, Holden’s old flame, in “The Catcher in the Rye.”
“The character of Sally Hayes is Oona O’Neill,” Slawenski says. “I can’t put it plainer than that.”

Caulfield's Implicature


Oona O'Neill was the girl who got away, the one the author of “The Catcher in the Rye” never caught.
Eugene O’Neill’s daughter, Oona, was 16 when she was introduced to a 22-year-old J.D. Salinger in 1941. 

A year after Salinger and O'Neill start dating, he was sent to boot camp while Oona headed for Hollywood, where she became Mrs. Charlie Chaplin.
That fascinating footnote comes up in “Rebel in the Rye.” 

Danny Strong’s biopic explores the early years of Holden Caulfield’s creator. 

"I don’t think you could say Oona O’Neill was the love of his life,” Strong tells The Post.

"But poor J.D. really fell for her.”
That she was a great playwright’s daughter was part of her allure. 
It was also her misfortune.
“Geniuses, for the most part, should never have children,” says Jane Scovell, author of “Oona Living in the Shadows.” 
She says Oona’s childhood was awful.
Her mother drank and her father abandoned them when she was 2. 
Even so, she adored him, crying, “Daddy, Daddy,” whenever she saw his picture.
No wonder New York’s stunning, well-spoken 1942 debutante of the year gravitated toward men. 
At 17, she was not only dating Salinger, but Peter Arno and Orson Welles.
Back then, Salinger was a nobody. 
Oona, a dark-haired, well-connected beauty, knocked his socks off.
“Salinger was only beginning to write, and he is dating Eugene O’Neill’s daughter and, through her, rubbing shoulders with her friend Gloria Vanderbilt.
But Salinger wasn’t blind to her faults: 

“Little Oona is in love with little Oona,” he told the friend who introduced them.
For her part, Oona believed the writer was “the greatest dancer she had ever met.”
He also wrote wonderful letters, parts of which, Truman Capote claimed, Oona gave to her friend Carol Marcus to crib from when Marcus was dating writer William Saroyan. 

(It worked: They wed.)
In the summer of 1942, Salinger was transferred to Georgia just as Oona moved to California. 

His letters to her went unanswered.

Oona had met Sir Chares Chaplin. 

As soon as she turned 18, she married him.
‘Sally Hayes is Oona O’Neill. I can’t put it plainer than that.’
Salinger only found out about it when he read it in the papers.
Furious, Salinger set O'Neill a scathing letter imagining what her wedding night was like with a man who was reportedly being treated with monkey glands.
Salinger went on to fight in D-Day, an experience that scarred him forever. 

Salinger came home, married the first of three wives, wrote the novel that made him famous and holed up in New Hampshire until he died.
And Oona O'Neill.

She bore Chaplin eight children and was with him till his death.

After that, she divided her time between their home in Switzerland and America where, she had affairs with Ryan O’Neal and David Bowie.
She lives on, Slawenski says, as Sally Hayes, Holden’s flame, in “The Catcher in the Rye.”
“The character of Sally Hayes is Oona O’Neill,” Slawenski says. “I can’t put it plainer than that.”

Caulfield's Implicature


Given how ferociously J.D. Salinger guarded his privacy, he likely would have objected to being the subject of any biopic, no matter how intelligent and respectful its portrait of him might be. 

There is a special cruelty, though, in consigning Salinger—an author whose most famous character incessantly rails against phoniness—to the superficial cliché factory that is Rebel In The Rye. 

This is the kind of hackwork that signifies writer’s block by having the writer angrily hurl his pencil across the room in frustration, even though he’s sitting at a typewriter. 

It’s the sort of overbaked melodrama in which the future legend’s stern father asks him 

“What makes you think you have anything to say to people?” 

There’s painfully dumb voiceover narration:

“Through the course of my fascinatingly dull life, I’ve always found fiction so much more truthful than reality—and, yes, I’m aware of the irony."

There’s a montage of rejection letters.

There’s “real life” dialogue that’s destined to turn up in the author’s work, ostensibly demonstrating how he got his ideas. 

Even the title is laughable. Rebel In The Rye

Coming soon: The Maverick Also Rises.
By the standards of literary giants, Salinger did lead an eventful early life, though Rebel arduously avoids any hint of complexity.

After dropping out of NYU, he enrolled at Columbia, where Story magazine editor Whit Burnett became his mentor and first champion.
Their turbulent relationship should be the heart of the film, but both men are conceived so shallowly—Salinger struggling to comprehend elemental notions of content vs. form; Burnett seemingly clairvoyant about Holden Caulfield’s potential as an iconic character—that the inevitable rift between them feels contrived.

Salinger’s parallel pursuit of famed debutante Oona O’Neill, who would ultimately dump him to marry Sir Charles Chaplin, plays more like an adaptation of a Trivial Pursuit question than like a romance.

As for World War II, which would shape much of Salinger’s writing, forget it.

He stormed Utah Beach on D-Day and helped to liberate a Nazi concentration camp, but Rebel In The Rye’s brief wartime interludes, shot in shallow focus, practically scream:

“Sorry, we didn’t even remotely have the budget for this.”
Not that more money would have helped much.

Hoult doesn’t embarrass himself—Salinger’s silently horrified reaction when a publisher asks whether Holden Caulfield is meant to be crazy hits home, for example—but he too often comes across like a generic wiseacre who’s also occasionally too sensitive for this world.

Still Rebel
’s main problem is that Danny “that nerdy kid on the margins of Sunnydale High” Strong (who’s also the co-creator of Empireamong other credits; this is his first film as both writer and director) does not trust viewers to grasp anything that doesn’t fall directly into their laps after first clonking them on the head.
Knowing that Salinger published nothing whatsoever after 1965, despite reportedly continuing to write fiction up until his death, Strong has Salinger’s literary agent (Sarah Paulson) tell him “publishing is everything” no fewer than three times, just to make sure that we understand what he was rebelling against.

That’s not subtle foreshadowing.

It's hamfisted spoon-feeding.

Other cringeworthy moments include Salinger idly asking a stranger at Central Park where the ducks go when the lake freezes over in the winter, which is meant to elicit a knowing nod from anyone who read The Catcher In The Rye  (i.e., everyone).

Most great-author biopics are just faintly dull and unnecessary.

Rebel In The Rye, true to its ridiculous title, is proudly, even aggressively hackneyed.

Caulfield's Implicature


It is ironic that films about trail-blazing artists are so often filled with cliches.

Reclusive author J.D. Salinger famously forbade anyone from adapting his novel “The Catcher in the Rye” for the big screen.

Shane Salerno’s ridiculous documentary “Salinger” — based on Salerno’s even worse biography — proves that Salinger was right to keep filmmakers away from him, and from a novel whose iconoclastic take on rebellion would become, paradoxically, iconic to the point of cliche.
Based on Kenneth Slawenski’s biography “J.D. Salinger: A Life,” the biopic “Rebel in the Rye” is a marginal improvement on Salerno’s documentary.

But like that misguided film, writer-director Danny Strong’s feature debut embodies the very phoniness that the author — and his signature character Holden Caulfield — railed against.
Eyes will roll as, early in the film, Salinger is shown writing to editor Whit Burnett the words

“Holden Caulfield is dead.”

Is is an all-too-familiar way of opening a film.

With disillusionment.

What follows backtracks to 1939, when an as yet unpublished Salinger — who was then under the tutelage of Burnett at Columbia — unsuccessfully attempts to court New York socialite Oona O’Neill, the daugher of you-know-who.
As Salinger’s teacher and, later, editor, Spacey is given some pretty cornball dialogue.

Sitting in a New York cafe, he says, “I couldn’t think of a better place to read the work of the next Fitzgerald or Hemingway than right here in Greenwich Village.”
Burnett tries to impart lessons that are valuable for any aspiring writer.

Don’t let the authorial voice, for instance, overwhelm the story.

And Hoult and Spacey do their best to rise above Strong’s expository dialogue and ham-handed melodrama.

The film briefly comes to life whenever Oona O'Neill is on the screen.

But “Rebel in the Rye” quickly arrives at an impasse.

One that’s almost inevitable in films that attempt to render the mysteries of the creative process.

"It just flowed out of me,” Salinger tells Burnett, who has been encouraging the author to dig deeper into his Holden character.

What flows out of Strong’s script, unfortunately, is boiler-plate literary nonsense.

"I shaped them. I challenged them,” Burnett crows, about such literary giants as William Saroyan and John Cheever. “I discovered them all.”
The most cringe-inducing moments in the film come — more than once — when, after “The Catcher in the Rye" has been published (after having been written, of all places, in a farm on charming Old Road, off Boston Post Road, in Westport, Connecticut), fans of "The Catcher in the Rye" awkwardly approach Salinger, dressed in what can only be called Holden Caulfield cosplay.
The publishers who initially rejected Salinger’s novel are, for the most part, portrayed as people who just don’t get it.

Yet one wonders whether Strong himself gets it.

Most people who have read “The Catcher in the Rye” would not envision its author approving of a film that includes a book-release montage — scored against a lightly swinging jazz-vocal version of the Burn's song “Comin’ Thro’ the Rye” — that shows Salinger examining his own reflection in a store window.
It is hard to imagine a film more inaptly named -- but I agree that "Salinger's War" would not sell!

As a film, this “Rebel” is, as it turns out, terribly by the book.

Caulfield's Implicature


The first shot in the film "Rebel in the Rye" is of a broken-down man staring at the Central Park carousel. 

This is not an adaptation of "The Catcher in the Rye" and it is not quite a biopic of its author, JD Salinger

It’s more like a “making of” story, the long struggle to get "The Catcher in the Rye" about the disaffected Caulfield in a red hunting cap on to the page and out into the world.

 Though this telling has more than its share of well-worn story beats that Salinger’s hero Caulfield might accuse of being "phony," there are enough occasional insights into the creative process, as well as juicy tidbits about the secretive Salinger, to make this a very agreeable, if at times slightly shallow, watch.

Barring a few time jumps, our story begins as Jerry Salinger enters Columbia's creative writing class of the Story magazine editor Whit Burnett, a droll-as-hell Kevin Spacey, whose theatrical lectures are, quite frankly, more succinct and penetrating than any college class I ever took.

Under Burnett’s tutelage, Salinger learns to reel in his clever voice for the sake of narrative, finding a harmony that (as most 20th-century readers would agree) made him one of the greatest writers.
After Burnett first publishes Salinger, things start looking up.

His self-loathing Jewish father (Victor Garber) still wants him to get a REAL job, but being published helps Jerry “get the girl”, in this case Oona O’Neill!

Then, two catastrophes strike.

First, "The New Yorker," Jerry’s dream publication, won’t accept his latest story unless he heeds the magazine’s notes.

Second, Japan invades Pearl Harbor.

Jerry joins the army and, just before his D-Day deployment, he gets some extra salt in the wound when Oona O'Neill leaves him for Sir Charles Chaplin.

Salinger’s war experience, which included liberating a concentration camp, sent him into mental breakdown (and lifelong PTSD), but the thing that kept him safe during his time in Europe was writing about Caulfield.
The return to America (with a temporary German war bride, "Saliva") has its share of setbacks, and this is where the first-time writer-director Danny Strong (best known as a character actor) sinks into a pit of cliche.

All of the originality from Burnett’s classroom is nearly derailed by Salinger’s slow climb back to his typewriter.

Let’s face it, you can shoot up from the bottom of the keys, but there just aren’t too many ways to make writing cinematic.

With the help of a Buddhist teacher, Salinger eventually finds the clarity to publish the book, and culture is transformed.

But so is Salinger.

Besieged by fans and further enamored of vaguely zen teachings, Salinger finds his final form as a hermit banging away at stories nobody will ever read in a New Hampshire bunker.
The second half of the film is interesting inasmuch as watching any real-life genius go bananas is interesting.

But the extreme compression of time eventually becomes laughable.

Then there’s the most cringe-worthy end card since The Imitation Game’s “today we call them computers”.
Other than Spacey’s, none of the performances are more than fine.

Strong’s evocation of the era with small night-clubs (like "The Stork") and apartments are what one does on a lower budget.
But the world doesn’t feel particularly lived in.
There’s a scene in which Salinger explains why he’ll never allow a film version of The Catcher In The Rye. Even though this movie holds your attention and isn’t bad, one can’t help but agree it wouldn’t have been a crime if this one never got made either.

Caulfield's Implicature

Holden Caulfield’s Goddam War
As army sergeant J. D. Salinger hit the beach on D-day, drank with Hemingway in newly liberated Paris, and marched into concentration camps, the hero of The Catcher in the Rye was with him. In an adaptation from his Salinger biography, the author reveals how the war changed both Holden Caulfield and his creator.
The author in 1952—a year after Catcher was published. By Anthony Di Gesu/San Diego Historical Society/Hulton Archive Collection/Getty Images.

In the autumn of 1950, at his home on Old Road, off Boston Post Road, in Westport, Connecticut, J. D. Salinger completed The Catcher in the Rye. 

The achievement was a catharsis. 

It was confession, purging, prayer, and enlightenment, in a voice so distinct that it would alter world culture.

Holden Caulfield, and the pages that held him, had been the author’s constant companion for most of his life. 

Those pages, the first of them written in Salinger's mid-20s, just before he shipped off to Europe as an army sergeant, were so precious to Salinger that he carried them on his person throughout the Second World War. 

Pages of The Catcher in the Rye had stormed the beach at Normandy.

They had paraded down the streets of Paris, been present at the deaths of countless soldiers in countless places, and been carried through the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. 

In bits and pieces they had been re-written, put aside, and re-written again, the nature of the story changing as Salinger himself was changed. 

Now, in his home on Old Road, off Boston Post Road, in Westport, Connecticut, Salinger placed the final line on the final chapter of "The Catcher in the Rye." 

It is with Salinger’s experience of the Second World War in mind that we should understand Holden Caulfield’s insight at the Central Park carousel, and the conversational implicature behind his parting words of The Catcher in the Rye: 

“Don’t ever tell anybody anything."

"If you do, you start missing everybody.” 

All the dead soldiers.

June 6, 1944, was the turning point of J. D. Salinger’s life. 

It is difficult to overstate the impact of D-day and the 11 months of combat that followed. 

The war, its horrors and lessons, would brand itself upon every aspect of Salinger’s personality and reverberate through his work. 

As a writer before entering the army, Salinger had had stories published in various magazines, including Collier’s and Story, and he had begun to conjure members of the Caulfield family, including Holden. 

On D-day he had six unpublished Caulfield stories in his possession, stories that would form the spine of The Catcher in the Rye. 

The experience of war gave his writing a depth and maturity it had lacked.

The legacy of that experience is present even in "The Catcher in the rye," that is not about war at all. 

In later life, Salinger frequently mentions Normandy, but he never spoke of the details—“as if,” Margaret Salinger, of Boston, later recalled, “I understood the implications, the implicatures, the unspoken.”

As part of the 4th Counter Intelligence Corps detachment, Salinger was to land on Utah Beach with the first wave, at 6:30 A.M., but an eyewitness report has him in fact landing during the second wave, about 10 minutes later. 

The timing was fortunate. 

The Channel’s currents had thrown the landing off 2,000 yards to the south, allowing Salinger to avoid the most heavily concentrated German defenses. 

Within an hour of landing, Salinger was moving inland and heading west, where he and his detachment would eventually connect with the 12th Infantry Regiment.

The 12th had not been so lucky. 

Although it landed five hours later, it had encountered obstacles that Salinger and his group had not. 

Just beyond the beach, the Germans had flooded a vast marshland, up to two miles wide, and had concentrated their firepower on the only open causeway. 

The 12th had been forced to abandon the causeway and wade through waist-high water while under constant threat from enemy guns. 

It took the 12th Infantry three hours to cross the marsh. 

After meeting up with the regiment, Salinger would spend the next 26 days in combat. 

On June 6, the regiment had consisted of 3,080 men. 

By July 1, the number was down to 1,130.

Unlike many soldiers who had been impatient for the invasion, Salinger was far from naïve about war. 

In short stories he had already written while in the army, such as “Soft-Boiled Sergeant” and “Last Day of the Last Furlough,” he expressed disgust with the false idealism applied to combat, and attempted to explain that war was a bloody, inglorious affair. 

But no amount of theoretical insight could have prepared him for what was to come. 

Salinger would count among his most treasured belongings a small casket containing his five battle stars and the Presidential Unit Citation for valour.

Salinger fought, but he also wrote—wrote constantly, from war’s start to war’s finish. 

Salinger had begun to write seriously in 1939, as a student at Columbia, under the guidance of Whit Burnett, who also happened to be the editor of 
Story magazine, and who became for Salinger a mentor and near father figure. 

By 1941, Salinger was producing stories in rapid succession, each an experiment to find his own writing style. 

“Slight Rebellion off Madison,” written that year, is the story where Caulfield makes his debut—Salinger described it as 

“a sad little comedy about a prep school boy on Christmas vacation.” 

It was spiritually autobiographical, he admitted. 

Caulfield is the first character in whom Salinger embeds himself, and their lives would be joined.

Whatever happened to Salinger would, in a sense, also happen to Caulfield. 

Burnett pushed Salinger repeatedly to place Holden Caulfield into a novel, and he kept prodding him even after he was drafted, in 1942.

Burnett had reason to be nervous. 

Salinger was a short-story writer who was unaccustomed to longer work. 

To overcome his possible difficulties with length, Salinger chose to construct the novel by writing it in segments—as a series of short stories that might eventually be strung together. 

By March 1944, Salinger had completed six stories in this manner, most of them somehow featuring Caulfield and other members of the family. 

There would be nine such stories altogether. 

Among the Holden stories from this time was one called “I’m Crazy,” which eventually was incorporated wholesale into The Catcher in the Rye, becoming the chapters in which Holden visits Mr. Spencer and leaves Pencey Prep.

Salinger wrote much that has not survived—there are tantalizing references in his letters—and he also produced much work that never appeared in print. 

A week after D-day, he sent a three-sentence postcard to Burnett saying that he was O.K., but also explaining that, under the circumstances, he was “too busy to go on with the book right now.” 

The truth, however, is that Salinger never stopped writing. 

Of all the Salinger stories to remain unpublished, perhaps none is finer than “The Magic Foxhole,” the first story Salinger wrote while actually fighting on the front line, and the only work in which he ever depicted active combat. 

“The Magic Foxhole” is angry, verging on the subversive.

The story opens days after D-day on a slow-moving convoy. 

It casts the reader as an anonymous hitchhiking G.I. picked up by the narrator, a soldier named Garrity. 

Addressing the G.I. only as “Mac,” Garrity recounts the events of a battle fought by his battalion right after the invasion. 

His tale focuses on the company point man, Lewis Gardner, and the experiences that cause him to lose his mind. 

The most powerful portion of “The Magic Foxhole” is the opening scene, which describes the landings at Normandy. 

Among the dead bodies on the beach is a solitary living figure—a chaplain crawling around in the sand, frantically searching for his glasses. 

The narrator, as his transport nears the beach, watches the surreal scene in amazement, until the chaplain, too, is killed. 

It was no accident that Salinger chose a chaplain to be the only living man among the dead in the heat of war. 

It was also no accident that the chaplain should be desperate for the clarity his glasses would provide. 

A man who believed he held the answer to life’s great questions suddenly discovers that he doesn’t—just when he needs an answer most. 

It is a critical moment in Salinger’s writing. 

For the first time, he asks the question: Where is God?


On August 25, 1944, the Germans surrendered Paris. 

The 12th Regiment was ordered to flush out resistance from one quadrant of the city. 

As an intelligence officer, Salinger was also designated to identify Nazi collaborators among the French. 

According to John Keenan, his C.I.C. partner and best friend throughout the war, they had captured such a collaborator when a nearby crowd caught wind of the arrest and descended on them. 

After wresting the prisoner away from Salinger and Keenan, who were unwilling to shoot into the throng, the crowd beat the man to death. 

Salinger and Keenan could do nothing but watch.

Salinger was in Paris for only a few days, but they were the happiest days he would experience during the war. 

His recollection of them is contained in a letter to Burnett. 

The high point was a meeting with Ernest Hemingway, who was a war correspondent for Collier’s. 

There was no question in Salinger’s mind where Hemingway would be found. 

He jumped into his jeep and made for the Ritz. 

Hemingway greeted Salinger like an old friend. 

He claimed to be familiar with his writing, and asked if he had any new stories on him. 

Salinger managed to locate a copy of The Saturday Evening Post containing “Last Day of the Last Furlough,” which had been published that summer. 

Hemingway read it and was impressed. 

The two men talked shop over drinks.

Salinger was relieved to find that Hemingway was not at all pretentious or overly macho, as he had feared he might be. 

Rather, he found him to be gentle and well grounded: overall, a “really good guy.” 

Salinger tended to separate Hemingway’s professional persona from his personal one. 

He told one friend that Hemingway was essentially kind by nature but had been posturing for so many years that it now came naturally to him. 

Salinger disagreed with the underlying philosophy of Hemingway’s work. 

He said that he hated Hemingway’s “overestimation of sheer physical courage, commonly called ‘guts,’ as a virtue. 

Probably because I’m short on it myself.”

As time went on, Salinger derived great personal strength from his relationship with Hemingway, and knew him by his nickname, “Papa.” 

The warmth did not necessarily transfer to Hemingway’s writing—at least not if one goes by Caulfield’s later condemnation of A Farewell to Arms. 

But during the war, Salinger was grateful for Hemingway’s friendship.
After the liberation of Paris, General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s chief of staff declared that “militarily, the war is over.”

 Salinger’s division would have the honour of being the first to enter Germany. 

Once it had crossed into the Third Reich and breached the Siegfried line, its orders were to sweep away any resistance from the area of the Hürtgen Forest and take up a position to protect the flank of the First Army.
When Salinger entered Hürtgen, he crossed into a nightmare world. 
The forest was more heavily fortified than anyone had guessed. 
The Germans employed tree bursts, which exploded well above the soldiers’ heads, resulting in a shower of shrapnel and shredded tree limbs. 
Then there was the weather—either drenching wet or burning cold. 
Nearly half of the 2,517 casualties suffered by the 12th Infantry in Hürtgen were due to the elements. 
Hürtgen is viewed by historians as among the greatest Allied debacles of the war.
Salinger did manage to find one moment of solace. 
During the battle for the forest, Hemingway was briefly stationed as a correspondent with the 22nd Regiment, just a mile from Salinger’s encampment. 
One night, during a lull in the fighting, Salinger turned to a fellow soldier, Werner Kleeman, a translator he had befriended while training in England. 
“Let’s go,” Salinger urged. “Let’s go see Hemingway.” 
The two men made their way through the forest to Hemingway’s quarters, a small cabin lit by the extraordinary luxury of its own generator. 
The visit lasted two or three hours. 
They drank celebratory champagne from aluminum canteen cups.
Salinger’s choice of companion was perhaps an expression of gratitude. 
Among his commanders in the Hürtgen Forest was an officer whom Kleeman later described as having been “a heavy drinker” and cruel to his troops. 
The officer had once ordered Salinger to remain in a frozen foxhole overnight, despite knowing that he was without proper supplies. 
Kleeman secretly delivered two items from Salinger’s belongings that helped him survive: a blanket and a pair of his mother’s ubiquitous woolen socks.
Hürtgen changed everyone who experienced it. 

Most survivors never spoke of Hürtgen again. 

The sufferings that Salinger endured are essential to understanding "The catcher in the rye". 
They gave rise, for instance, to the nightmares suffered by Sergeant X in “For Esmé—with Love and Squalor.”
From Hürtgen, Salinger sent a letter to his friend Elizabeth Murray, saying that he had been writing as much as possible. 
He claimed to have completed five stories since January and to be in the process of finishing another three. 
Years later, Salinger’s counter-intelligence colleagues would remember him as constantly stealing away to write. 
One recalled a time when the unit came under heavy fire. 
Everyone began ducking for cover. 
Glancing over, the soldiers caught sight of Salinger typing away under a table.
The pain of loss dominates Salinger’s one of his Caulfield stories, “This Sandwich Has No Mayonnaise,” which was probably written around this very time. 
As the story opens, Sergeant Vincent Caulfield is at boot camp in Georgia, sitting aboard a truck along with 33 other G.I.’s. 
It is late evening, and despite a downpour the men are bound for a dance in town. 
But there is a problem. 
Only 30 men are allowed to go to the dance, and the group aboard the truck therefore contains 4 too many. 
The truck is delayed while the men wait for a lieutenant to arrive and resolve the issue. 
As they wait, the conversation among the men reveals that Vincent Caulfield is in charge of the group and therefore responsible for deciding whom to exclude. 
In a stream-of-consciousness exploration of loneliness and nostalgia, the narrative concentrates less on what is happening in the truck than on what is going on in Vincent’s mind.
Vincent’s younger brother Holden Caulfield has been reported missing in action in the Pacific, and is presumed dead.
While the men on the truck talk about home, where they come from, and what they did before the war, Vincent experiences a series of flashbacks. 

He sees himself at the 1939 World’s Fair with his sister Phoebe as they visit the Bell Telephone exhibition. 
When they come out, they find Holden Caulfield standing there. 
Holden Caulfield asks Phoebe for her autograph, and Phoebe playfully punches him in the stomach, “happy to see him, happy he was her brother.” Vincent’s mind keeps leaping back to Holden. 
He sees him at prep school, on the tennis court, and sitting on the porch at Cape Cod. 
How can Holden Caulfield possibly be missing?
When the lieutenant arrives, he is visibly annoyed. 
When he asks about the situation, Vincent feigns ignorance and pretends to count heads. 
He offers a movie to anyone willing to forgo the dance. 
Two soldiers skulk off into the night, but Vincent still has two men too many. 
Finally he makes a decision and orders the last two men on the left to leave the truck. 
One soldier dismounts and slips away. 
Vincent waits and finally sees another soldier emerge. 
As the figure comes into the light, the image of a young boy is revealed. 
All eyes are fixed upon him as he stands in the downpour. “I was on the list,” the boy says, almost in tears. 
Vincent does not respond. 
In the end it is the lieutenant who orders the boy back into the truck and arranges for an extra girl at the party to match the extra man.
The boy’s appearance is the climax of the story. 

A figure emerging from the darkness, he is vulnerable and distressed. 
He is the spirit of Holden Caulfield. 
Vincent reaches out and turns up the boy’s collar to protect him from the rain. 
As the story concludes, Vincent pleads to his missing brother.

“Just go up to somebody—and tell them you’re Here—not Missing, not dead, not anything but Here.”

His intelligence duties brought Salinger face-to-face with the Holocaust. 
The Counter Intelligence Corps had compiled and disseminated a confidential report to its agents titled “The German Concentration Camps.” 
C.I.C. officers were instructed that upon entering an area suspected of containing one of these camps it was their duty to make straightaway for its location.
On April 22, after a difficult fight for the town of Rothenberg, the path of Salinger’s division brought it into a triangular region approximately 20 miles on each side, situated between the Bavarian cities of Augsburg, Landsberg, and Dachau. 
This territory held the vast Dachau concentration-camp system. 
As the 12th Regiment swarmed into the area, it came upon the camps. 
“You could live a lifetime,” he once told Margaret Salnger, “and never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose.”
Salinger’s wartime experiences eventually brought on a deep depression. 
When the German Army surrendered, on May 8, 1945, the world erupted in celebration. 
Salinger spent the day alone, sitting on his bed, staring at a .45-caliber pistol clutched in his hands. 
What would it feel like, he wondered, if he were to fire the gun through his left palm? 
Salinger recognized the potential danger of his state of mind. 
In July, he checked himself into a hospital in Nuremberg for treatment.
Most of what we know about Salinger’s hospitalization is derived from a July 27 letter he wrote to Hemingway from the hospital. 
It began by openly confessing that Salinger had been 
“in an almost constant state of despondency” 
and wanted to talk to someone professional before it got out of hand. 
During his stay, the staff had peppered him with questions.

What was his childhood like? 
How was his sex life? 
Did he like the army? 
Salinger had given a sarcastic answer to each question—except for the one about the army. 
That last question he had answered with an unambiguous “yes.” 
He very much had the future Holden Caulfield novel in mind when he gave this answer, explaining to Hemingway that he was afraid of the impact a psychological discharge might have on how the author of "The Catcher in the Rye" would be perceived.
Some of the irony and vernacular of Holden Caulfield comes through in this letter. 
“There are very few arrests left to be made in our section,” he writes. 
“We’re now picking up children under ten if their attitudes are snotty.” 
Also apparent is Salinger’s need for affirmation. 

At times, his tone is pleading. 

Will Hemingway please write to him? 

Can Hemingway possibly find the time to visit him later, in New York? 

Is there anything Salinger can do for him? 

“The talks I had with you here,” he told Hemingway, “were the only hopeful minutes of the whole business.”
When Salinger returned home from the war, he resumed his life as a writer of short stories, many of which appeared in The New Yorker. 
But he never lost sight of Holden Caulfield. 
What Salinger had of "The Catcher in the rye" was a tangle of stories written as far back as 1941. 
The challenge was to weave the strands together into a unified work of art. 
He took up the task early in 1949.
The war changed Holden Caulfield.

He had first appeared in the pre-war story “Slight Rebellion off Madison,” which would be absorbed into Catcher. 
But the passage of time and events completely transformed the episode—Salinger’s own experiences melted into the retelling. 
In “Slight Rebellion,” Holden Caulfield is pointedly selfish and confused.
He is presented in a third-person voice, far removed from the reader. 
The same scene in The Catcher in the Rye conveys an impression of nobility. 
Holden Caulfield's words are largely the same, but in the novel his selfishness has evaporated and he seems to be speaking a larger truth. 
The third-person voice is gone—the reader has direct access to Holden’s thoughts and words.
When Salinger finished "The Catcher in the Rye," in his home on Old Road, off Boston Post Road, in Westport, Connecticut, he sent the manuscript to Robert Giroux, at Harcourt, Brace. 
When Giroux received the manuscript, he “thought it a remarkable book and considered [himself] lucky to be its editor.” 
He was convinced that "The Catcher in the rye" would do well but later confessed that “the thought of a best-seller never crossed my mind.” 
Assured of the novel’s distinction and having already sealed the deal with a handshake, Giroux sent The Catcher in the Rye to Harcourt, Brace vice president Eugene Reynal. 
After Reynal reviewed the manuscript, it became clear to Giroux that the publishing house would not recognize the oral contract. 
Worse still, it was apparent that Reynal did not understand the novel at all. 
As Giroux later recalled, “I didn’t realize what big trouble I was in until, after he’d read it, he said, ‘Is Holden Caulfield supposed to be crazy?’ He also told me he’d given the typescript to one of our textbook editors to read."

"I said ‘Textbook, what has that to do with it?’

 ‘It’s about a preppie, isn’t it?’ The textbook editor’s report was negative, and that settled that.”
“Those bastards,” Salinger said after getting the news. 

The manuscript was sent to Little, Brown, in Boston, which snatched it up immediately.
Salinger would endure one further blow. 
At the end of 1950, his agent delivered The Catcher in the Rye to the offices of The New Yorker, a gift from Salinger to the magazine that had stood by him for so long. 
He intended for The New Yorker to publish excerpts from the book. 
The New Yorker’s reaction was conveyed by Gus Lobrano, the fiction editor with whom he had worked closely for many years. 
According to Lobrano, the Catcher manuscript had been reviewed by himself and at least one other editor. 
Neither of them liked it. 
Its characters were considered to be unbelievable and Caulfield, in particular, too precocious. 
In their opinion, “The notion that in one family there is such an extraordinary child. . . is not quite tenable.” 
The New Yorker declined to print a single word of the book.
The Catcher in the Rye was published in 1951. 

The ublic impact was greater than Salinger could have hoped for—or perhaps could deal with. 

Time magazine praised the novel’s depth and compared the author to Ring Lardner. 

The New York Times called Catcher “unusually brilliant.” 

Despite its initial reservations, The New Yorker found it “brilliant, funny,” and “meaningful.” 

The less favorable reviews generally found fault with the novel’s language and idiom. 

A number of critics were offended by Holden’s repeated use of “goddam” and especially the phrase “fuck you”—shocking for any novel in 1951.

Catcher soon emerged onto the New York Times best-seller list and would remain there for seven months.
What readers encountered within the covers of The Catcher in the Rye was often life-changing. 
From the novel’s opening line, Salinger draws the reader into the peculiar, unrestrained reality of Caulfield, whose meandering thoughts, emotions, and memories populate the most completely stream-of-consciousness experience yet offered by literature.
For Salinger himself, writing The Catcher in the Rye was an act of liberation. 
The bruising of Salinger’s faith by the terrible events of war is reflected in Caulfield's loss of faith, caused by the death of his brother Allie. 
The memory of fallen friends haunted Salinger for years, just as Caulfield is haunted by the ghost of his brother. 
The struggle of Caulfield echoes the spiritual journey of the author. 
In both author and character, the tragedy is the same: a shattered innocence. 
Caulfield's reaction is shown through his scorn of phoniness and compromise. 
Salinger’s reaction was personal despondency, through which his eyes were opened to the darker forces of human nature.
Both eventually came to terms with the burdens they carried, and their epiphanies were the same. 
Caulfield comes to realize he can enter adulthood without becoming false and sacrificing his values.
Salinger came to accept that knowledge of evil did not ensure damnation. 
The experience of war gave a voice to Salinger, and therefore to Caulfield. 
He is no longer speaking only for himself—he is reaching out to all of us.