Bootlegging Salinger
When I was 14, I started reading J.D. Salinger. Empathizing with Holden's confusion and simultaneous sense of wonder about the world, I remember becoming fascinated by The Catcher in the Rye. When I was 16, I started reading J.D. Salinger. After finding the Glass family stories, which I still consider to be his best work, I subscribed to the Bananafish list-serv. There, amidst conversations about deconstruction and the role it should play in literary theory which confused the hell out of me at the time, I found references to stories that Salinger had written which had never been collected.

I read on the list about the so-called "under-published Salinger stories," pieces he had published in magazines like Harper's and Collier's from 1940-1948. The real treasure I was looking for was "Hapworth 16, 1924" from 1965, Salinger's last published story before he began a 43 year silence. After delving into literary criticism of Salinger, I was fascinated by these stories, published in World War 2-era magazines and decided to seek them out. But I was met with a roadblock: Salinger had tried to sue anyone publishing the stories in the past. Even Ian Hamilton's biography In Search of J.D. Salinger had to be rewritten due to what Salinger thought was an overly large use of material from these stories, among other issues. But with advice from the listserv, I traveled to the main branch of the Denver Public Library to photocopy of all of the under-published stories.

I knew from online research that they had an extensive periodical collection, and they did, but a number of the stories had been torn out of the magazines by eager collectors. I was able to locate about 14 of the stories and read them over the weekend. But I was still missing some.

About a year later, after searching interlibrary loan (which is an incredible tool), I found 22 Stories, a bootleg volume of Salinger's work published in 1998 in a run of 1,000 copies by Train Bridge Recluse. I read the stories and was fascinated.

The search for the books was the most rewarding part about the experience, the feeling of flipping through the same pages that the past generation did to seek out these forgotten pieces. It made me think that if teachers made learning more of a treasure hunt than a quest to see how much unwanted knowledge they could throw at you, the American educational system would be in a much better state. The stories are now available online here.

Each story is a fascinating glimpse into another era, and they exhibit Salinger's stylistic and narrative evolution into one of America's most highly-acclaimed writers of the 20th century.

Salinger's first mass-published story was "The Young Folks," published in Story Magazine when he had just turned 21, and it was a look inside a 1940s college party. Naturally, since he began his publishing career during the war, Salinger was drawn towards writing many stories regarding soldiers' stories and the environment in the nation during the time. The rest of the stories in the collection focus on this strongly, but "The Young Folks" operates as a prelude, the beginning before the beginning, which makes it one of my favorite of his works.

In "The Young Folks," a college party hostess named Lucille observes Edna Phillips' boredom and tries to liven up the party by setting Edna up with another student, Bill Jameson. During the course of the awkward conversation that follows, Jameson uses the excuse of writing a paper on a John Ruskin essay about "a cathedral in Europe" (very specifically) to explain why he shouldn't stay late at the party. The conversation shifts to romance and sex, with Edna recalling two past relationships, the first with a painter and the second with a Princeton graduate. In her recollections of the events, the painter refers deprecatingly to Edna as being "not beautiful according to conventional standards," and she trails off after mentioning she "only posed for him this once." She also directly refers to being pressured sexually by the Princeton graduate.

Throughout this section, there are a few mentions of a blonde girl named Doris seated on the floor around three male Rutgers students laughing uproariously. At this point, there is a shift in the discussion to the girl. Edna has a negative opinion about her based on information from a trusted friend who was romantically involved with her, but acknowledges that men do find her attractive. Meanwhile, Jameson subtly but obviously expresses interest in Doris. The most telling line of the conversation is at the end:

Edna said, "It isn't that I can't appreciate how a boy feels after he dates you all summer and spends money he hasn't any right to spend on theater tickets and night spots and all. I mean, I can understand. He feels you owe him something. Well, I'm not that way. I guess I'm just not built that way. It's gotta be the real thing with me. Before, you know. I mean, love and all."

"Yeah. Look, uh. I really oughtta get goin'. I got this theme for Monday. Hell, I shoulda been home hours ago. So I think I'll go in and get a drink and get goin'.

After the conversation, Lucille comes to ask how things went between Edna and Jameson. Edna explains that Jameson had to leave early to finish his paper but is surprised when Lucille replies that Jameson is "in there on the floor with Dottie [Doris] Leggett." Salinger then paints her reaction: "Edna fish-lipped her mouth and tapped her cigarette ashes." After sarcastically referring to Jameson as "quite a guy" and "a trifle warm-blooded," Edna regains her seat on the big red chair, obviously upset about the situation. Although everyone in the room -- even the delivery boys -- are dancing to the song on the radio, Edna requests, "See if you can't get something better on the radio! I mean who can dance to that stuff?"

The way Salinger presents his story is affecting for many reasons. It captures a small but significant interpersonal interaction between two characters in a realistic way, and we see two human beings attempting to meet each other on some plane. They stumblingly try to find some way to come to a greater understanding of themselves and each other and ultimately fail. Both seem to be drawn to shallow and insignificant pursuits, not unlike many of Fitzgerald's characters, as the United States comes out of the Depression and is drawing closer to the war that devastated a generation. These characters also point to what Salinger did later in his writing career with his 1955 story "Franny." Jameson, a student who is reminiscent of Lane Coutell in "Franny," pretends to be too busy with his pretentious college essays about cathedrals he's never read about or seen while another college girl's hopes for a more sincere interaction are dashed. However, Franny is much different from Edna. Edna's interactions seem shallow and unfulfilled, while the reader has more sympathy for Franny, a spiritual seeker. Furthermore, we see an accurate (even linguistically) record of what college life was perceived like at the time as a record of Salinger's own generation.

But what gives these stories the most depth is Salinger's sense of style and vision, already extremely well-developed at his young age. Through his language, we are able to dream by the book, and we see his attentiveness to dialogue as expression of inner experience as well as the knowledge that he wanted us to have regarding this moment in these characters' lives.

The rest of the collection becomes even more interesting, as we see the war's impact on these characters wax and wane while relationships build and crumble. Salinger writes shorts that are later turned into episodes in Catcher, and we see models for D.B., Holden, and Phoebe, among other completely seperate characters who are fascinating to read about to any fan of Salinger. But in the spirit of forbidden knowledge, I'm not going to ruin the rest for you. Everything's there, from "The Young Folks" to "Hapworth." Search them out here and take a look.

Posted by kevin on Sun, 09 Mar 2008 18:15:02 -0400 -- permanent link

The Gallery at LPR
158 Bleecker St., New York, NY
Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

All content c. 2008-2009 by the respective authors.

Site design c. 2009 by sweet sweet design