J. D. Salinger: A Life

David L. Ulin reviews Slawenski's biography of the reclusive American author
Kenneth Slawenski, J. D. Salinger: A Life
Los Angeles Times book critic David L. Ulin passes verdict on a recent biography of J. D. Salinger. Kenneth Slawenski's ambitious volume, J. D. Salinger: A Life, attempts to uncover and explain the reclusive American author with recourse to archive materials and unpublished writings. But while Slawenski's analysis of little-known material offers new insight on Salinger's work, Ulin remains critical of the biography as a whole:
A year after his death on Jan. 27, 2010, it's tough to know how to assess J.D. Salinger; there are too many loose ends. How can we miss a writer who removed himself from the public conversation nearly half a century before he died? At the same time, nothing in the last 12 months has suggested any loosening of the grip he maintained on his writing while he was alive. Whatever Salinger may have produced since his last published piece, the novella "Hapworth 16, 1924," appeared in the New Yorker in 1965 remains out of reach.

So while Kenneth Slawenski's "J.D.Salinger: A Life" is the first comprehensive biography of the reclusive author, it does little to resolve the issue of Salinger's legacy. Instead, it is more an extended letter from a fan. Since 2004, Slawenski has been the proprietor of DeadCaulfields.com, a website devoted to all things Salinger, and he's been working on this project for longer than that. Originally published last March in England under the title "J.D. Salinger: A Life Raised High," his is a book that blends workman-like doggedness with a fair amount of critical overstatement while still managing to frame its subject's life. [Read more]

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