For several months, publicity around the forthcoming documentary and book about J.D. Salinger has promised major revelations about the author. The biggest hints in the theatrical trailer imply that the writing Salinger did in seclusion after his final publication in 1965 would eventually see the light of day.
This morning, the The New York Times reports that the book and movie “include detailed assertions that Mr. Salinger instructed his estate to publish at least five books — some of them entirely new, some extending past work — in a sequence that he intended to begin as early as 2015.”
This is, of course, a believe-it-when-we-see-it situation. But it does align with things I have heard since Salinger’s death that rank a little higher than rumor. According to the Times report, a final chapter in the coming Salinger biography details plans for at least five books, including a completion (or at least, an expansion) of the Glass Family stories. These are stories Salinger promised almost 60 years ago, in the author’s note on the original publication of Franny and Zooey:
Both stories are early, critical entries in a narrative series I’m doing about a family of settlers in twentieth-century New York, the Glasses. It is a long-term project, patently an ambitious one, and there is a real-enough danger, I suppose, that sooner or later I’ll bog down, perhaps disappear entirely, in my own methods, locutions, and mannerisms. On the whole though, I’m very hopeful. I love working on these Glass stories, I’ve been waiting for them most of my life, and I think I have fairly decent, monomaniacal plans to finish them with due care and all-available skill.
In that same message, Salinger also wrote,
I have a great deal of thoroughly unscheduled material on paper, too, but I expect to be fussing with it, to use a popular trade term, for some time to come. (“Polishing” is another dandy word that comes to mind.) I work like greased lightening, myself, but my alter-ego and collaborator, Buddy Glass, is insufferably slow.
Other possible publications track different era of Salinger’s life. Two come from his war experiences, a novella about his service, and a novel about his first marriage, to a German woman named Sylvia Welter whom Salinger met while deployed (the movie and book have also promised new revelations about this woman).
Another book, a set of stories serving as a “manual” of Vedanta, comes out of the life-long religious pursuits Salinger undertook. Salinger was a devotee, apparently until the end, of Vedanta and a book The Gospels of Sri Ramakrishna, which he once called “the religious book of the century.” These are likely to resemble — for better or worse, depending on your views — Salinger’s more religious and didactic stories like “Teddy” and “Hapworth 16, 1924.”
Another book will be a collection of stories about Holden Caulfield’s family. Salinger published a number of stories about the Caulfields, most of which went uncollected after the publication of The Catcher in the Rye. The collection will include the previous unpublished “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans,” which I wrote about in The Real Holden Caulfield:
In “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans,” Holden remains in the background of the story, which began to shape the Caulfield family that would eventually grow into The Catcher in the Rye. Vincent Caulfield, the narrator of “Peter Pans” is the oldest of the Caulfield children and the model for D.B. in Catcher. Kenneth, a younger brother who dies unexpectedly, would become Allie. Also appearing for the first time was Phoebe Caulfield. Holden, however, is mentioned only once. Today “The Last and Best of the Peter Pans,” which is in the Princeton Library and on publication embargo until 75 years after the author’s death, carries a sort of folklorish quality because it contains the first known mention of Salinger writing about a child needing to be saved as it moved towards a cliff.
Much more details on the history and development of Holden, including several other stories in which he appears, can be found here.
This is all hopeful news, but should still be considered tentative. Mostly because we’ve seen something like this before. In 1996 the small, almost reclusive Virginia publishing company Orchises Press made plans to publish Salinger’s last printed story, “Hapworth 16, 1924” — not new material, but the first activity from Salinger in over three decades. The publication was announced almost silently, as a small notice on Amazon.com. It is believed that Salinger decided to call off the operation when Times book critic Michiko Kakutani dug up “Hapworth” in its New Yorker back issue and panned the story.
It is unclear who is now in charge of Salinger’s unpublished works, or if Salinger’s instructions included an option to withdraw the stories if there was too much publicity. Say, for example, a front page mention on The New York Times.
– Michael Moats