'Salinger' Documentary Tells All, Maybe

September 06, 2013 | by stephanie Dunn | Pursuits

J.D. Salinger
J.D. Salinger (photo: Hulton Archive/gettyimages.com)

J.D. Salinger would not be happy right now. The literary scene, on the other hand, couldn’t be more thrilled about the September 6 release of Salinger, the much-hyped documentary by Shane Salerno rumored to expose one of the world’s most revered—and reclusive—authors.

Salinger, a former Park Avenue rich kid, shot to fame with his coming-of-age cult classic, The Catcher in the Rye, penned a series of critically acclaimed short stories and novellas, then abruptly turned his back on celebrity at the height of his success, disappearing into his wooded Cornish, N.H., compound. He gave his last interview in 1980.

What Salinger worked on for half a century before his death in 2010 has largely remained a mystery. Now Salinger, what writer-director Salerno calls “a nine-year detective story,” claims to explain the enigma through a series of interviews that shed light on Salinger’s breakdown-inducing WWII years; the jolt caused by his post-Catcher fame; his three marriages (one, possibly, to a Nazi); and his lovers (one of whom was 14 years old to his 30 when they met).

Salinger himself was no stranger to South Florida, where he began vacationing in the late '40s, and where he would return several times with mistresses in tow. A Perfect Day for Bananafish, Salinger’s poignant koan about a man who commits suicide while on a second honeymoon with his vapid, self-absorbed wife, takes place at an unnamed Florida hotel in 1948. But, especially in Miami, the meditation on materialism and innocence lost remains timeless.

Fans can get a head start with the documentary’s 698-page companion book, which was released September 3 by Simon & Schuster. And, if one believes the buzz, we’ll have even more fodder in store when five of Salinger’s books are posthumously released beginning in 2015. 

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