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Obituary: JD Salinger

JD Salinger

Obituary by Jack Foley

AMERICAN novelist JD Salinger, best known for writing the classic 20th Century book The Catcher in the Rye, has died at the age of 91.

The reclusive author passed away from natural causes at his home in the state of New Hampshire on Thursday (January 28, 2010), according to his son.

Catcher In The Rye has become one of the most influential novels of all-time, thanks to its brilliantly written observations on teenage dissent in America.

Born in New York in 1919 to a well-to-do Jewish businessman and Scots-Irish mother, Jerome David Salinger was raised in uptown Manhattan and soon developed a passion for expressing himself through the written word.

Indeed, he first began writing stories when he was forced to attend a harsh military academy at Valley Forge in rural Pennsylvania, after dropping out of the exclusive McBurney School on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

He had to be patient for success, however, eventually finding it during the ’40s when he saw numerous short stories published in magazines including The New Yorker.

Salinger then joined up to serve America once his country had entered the Second World War, during which he worked in army counter-intelligence.

The bloody fighting he subsequently witnessed at close quarters during the Normandy landing and in the Battle of the Bulge had a great impact on his life, however.

According to his daughter, Peggy, the horrors he witnessed at the German concentration camps he helped to liberate had a profound effect and he suffered something approaching a nervous breakdown.

Forced to convalesce in France, he then met and married a French doctor, but they were divorced after only eight months.

Upon returning to America, he set about working on The Catcher In The Rye, a book that chronicles 48 hours in the life of teenage rebel, Holden Caulfield, as he wanders the streets of New York in a state of mental collapse.

First published in 1951, it ironically enjoyed only moderate success but within a few years had become one of the most important works of its era, based largely on word of mouth among the teenage fans who embraced it.

Ironically, as many people as it inspired… it also had an undesirable influence on Mark David Chapman, who said he killed John Lennon to promote Salinger’s work.

It is also said to have influenced John Hinckley, the man who shot and wounded Ronald Reagan.

Salinger also became disillusioned with publishing shortly after its success and started to become more and more reclusive, spurning interviews whenever possible and avoiding contact with the public.

In 1953, he bought a house at Cornish, New Hampshire, and retreated into a seclusion that was to last for the rest of his life.

He subsequently published only three more books – all of which were best-sellers, including Franny & Zooey – but did not publish another work after 1965, even though – according to friends, he possessed at least 15 completed manuscripts in a large safe at his home.

Despite being a reculse, Salinger also enjoyed plenty of romance throughout his life. In 1954, he married 19-year-old Claire Douglas and they had two children before divorcing in 1967.

And for nearly 30 years, he lived with a woman called Colleen O’Neill, leading an ascetic life.