Review by Booklist Review
*Starred Review* Slawenski, creator of the DeadCaulfields.com website, has been working on this biography of the famously reclusive J. D. Salinger for eight years. He is more fan than scholar, but his research is remarkable, given the paucity of material on the author available to the public. Still, Slawenski has read everything that can be read and has constructed a surprisingly coherent version of a life that is likely to remain clouded with uncertainty for decades to come. What emerges from Slawenski's reading is two different lives divided by one cataclysmic event: WWII. Before the war, Salinger was a struggling writer from a well-to-do New York family who was driven by ambition to become famous. Then came the war, during which Salinger, a sergeant in the army, was transformed by chance into a kind of nightmare version of Zelig, turning up in all the wrong places: Utah Beach on D-Day, where two-thirds of his division were killed; the disastrous ambush in the Hurtgen Forest; and the snow-misted horror of the Battle of the Bulge. Throughout the war, Salinger continued to write stories, and gradually, Slawenski argues, he became another kind of author altogether, a man who wrote not for fame but as a kind of meditation, fiction as prayer. With the success of The Catcher in the Rye in 1951, fame itself became Salinger's new nightmare, driving him deeper into his wartime psychology. From the point of view of a man who wrote to block out the world, Salinger's decision to stop publishing altogether makes perfect sense. Slawenski's interpretation of Salinger's life is more compelling than his analysis of the writer's stories. As a critic, he suffers from a mix of too much affection, a graduate-student style, and a bad case of symbol-hunting. Still, Slawenski's life of Salinger makes at least speculative sense of a seemingly unknowable story, one that has beguiled readers for more than 50 years. That alone makes his book must reading. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: To be published one year to the day after Salinger's death on January 25, 2010, an event that reenergized the public's compulsion to know more about the reclusive author, this biography, by far the most complete so far, will kick Salinger fever into another gear.--Ott, Bill Copyright 2010 Booklist
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
After nearly a decade's research and Slawenski's obvious empathy with his reclusive subject's search for emotional and philosophical equilibrium, this exemplary biography will be released on the first anniversary of J.D. Salinger's death. It's a highly informative effort to assess the arc of Salinger's career, the themes of his fiction, and his influence on 20th-century American literature. Born in 1919, indulged by his mother while growing up on Park Avenue, Salinger was a bored and indifferent student. He eventually found a mentor in legendary Columbia professor Whit Burnett, who encouraged him to work on the pieces that became The Catcher in the Rye even while Salinger was serving in WWII Europe. Slawenski emphasizes that Salinger's wartime experience, from D-Day to the liberation of Dachau, "was the traumatic turning point in his life," influencing the sense of futility that permeates his early work. Salinger's salvation, Slawenski demonstrates, came through his acceptance of Vedatic Buddhism, and he argues persuasively that Salinger came to consider writing an aspect of meditation, a task that demanded solitude and perfect control over the presentation of his fiction. The celebrity surrounding the publication of Catcher in the Rye in 1951 activated the split between his striving for asceticism and the demands of the outside world. Slawenski describes Salinger's three marriages, records his contentious relationships with his publishers, his special relationship with the New Yorker, and Slawenski's assiduous research allows him to identify and assess many obscure and unpublished stories. In total, an invaluable work that sheds fascinating light on the willfully elusive author. B&w photos. (Jan. 25) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Slawenski, creator of DeadCaulfields.com, a site devoted to J.D. Salinger, has blended a critical mass of Salinger fact and fable in this tendentious biography. Previous biographies, e.g., Paul Alexander's Salinger and Ian Hamilton's In Search of J.D. Salinger, are descriptive chronicles of Salinger's "writing life" rather than full-flesh biographies. The reclusive, uncooperative Salinger had legally prohibited direct quotation from archival letters and impeded biographers' access to close friends and family. Slawenski, comparably hindered, concentrates here on Salinger's early years-his education at Valley Forge Military Academy, Ursinus College, and Columbia University; war service (Counter Intelligence Corps); first marriage; and youthful short stories. Commendably, Slawenski discloses and describes several short stories that are now lost. Since Salinger's reclusive years (1965-2010) offer scant biographical detail, the latter part of Slawenski's book contains long summaries of the author's stories, accounts of his litigations, and media reactions to Salinger's death. VERDICT The text lacks grammatical and stylistic polish, many factual statements are without source, and letters are cited without reference to a collection or archive. In spite of these flaws, Salinger enthusiasts will want to read this, so libraries should certainly purchase.-Lonnie Weatherby, McGill Univ. Lib., Montreal (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review
Impressively researched, sympathetic critical biography of one of the 20th century's most perplexing fiction authors.Jerome David Salinger (19192010) built his literary reputation in the 1950s and '60s on a string of short stories and a novel,The Catcher in the Rye (1951), which artfully explored youthful precocity, social alienation and religious epiphany. Yet at the height of his fame, Salinger decided to escape the spotlight. After his story "Hapworth 16, 1924," was published in the New Yorker in 1965, he maintained almost total public silence until his death. Consequently, Salinger acquired a second reputation as an infamously eccentric recluse, but Slawenski's biography shows how the author's seclusion naturally flowed out of his personal experience and metaphysical anxiety. Born to a well-off New York family, Salinger harbored literary ambitions from an early age, and though he aspired to the high-art pinnacle of theNew Yorker, his early work mostly emerged in little magazines like Storyor "slicks" likeCollier's and The Saturday Evening Post. Manhandling of his manuscripts by editors made Salinger skeptical about the publishing industry; a brutalizing Army experience during World War II, where he took part in the D-Day invasion, made him obsessive about the nature of man and God. Classic stories such as "For EsmWith Love and Squalor" were the product of a writer unsure of how to make his way in the world, and Slawenski patiently tracks how Salinger's growing interest in Eastern religion meshed with an increased fastidiousness about his writing. That's a recipe for a reclusive author, though fewer than 50 pages of the book deal with Salinger's half-century of seclusion, dwelling little on the gossipy details that emerged in memoirs such as those by his one-time lover Joyce Maynard. In Slawenski's reckoning, Salinger died not a cloistered misanthrope but a defiantly monklike soula writer so obsessed with perfecting his vision of the world that he had to abandon it to get the story right.Slawenski, the creator of deadcaulfields.com, is an admirer, but this is no fanboy biography; his close study of Salinger's roots admirably redirects attention to his writing and thought instead of his self-imposed exile.]] Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.