Finally finished watching the end of the Salinger documentary, which I DVRed when it was broadcast last year on PBS. It is of interest to anyone who loved the work of the man, whether you loved it obsessively, superficially, literarily or just out of the curiosity brought about by the weird phenomenon that his unique life created -- an inside-out uber-celebrity whose worst criticism he ever hurled at someone who betrayed him was: "You know what’s wrong with you? You love the world."
Having said that, the movie is a spotty pastiche so far as movies go, and an odd sort of documentary. It's too long, and too precious in its "recreations" and pseudo-theatricality. Still, some of the interviews with old friends and acquaintances are quite moving.
Here is my personal connection: In 1996 or 1997 I had a long interesting discussion with Matthew Salinger. I was interviewing him in order to help promote the video release of a movie he had produced called “Mojave Moon.” I can’t remember if I had seen the movie, or even if I’ve seen it since. I just now looked it up on IMDb; it features lots of good actors, including Angelina Jolie playing a character named Eleanor Rigby, just in case anyone out there is looking to make weird connections.
Anyhow, Matthew and I spoke for 45 minutes or an hour. It was a very pleasant conversation with an interesting young man who came across as having zero sense of self-importance. I was 46. He was about 10 years younger than I. (Thought I was going to say “younger than me,” didn’t you?)
At the end of the interview I turned off my little microcassette recorder and asked him, as off-handedly as I could, now that the official interview was over, would he mind if I asked him some questions about his dad, which were strictly for my own personal curiosity, not for publication. I didn’t know if he would brush that off as too personal, or feel that he was being treated as “the son of a famous person.” I hoped he wouldn’t be insulted.
To my delight, Matthew was totally cool. “What do you want to know?” he said.
In what has probably been acted out hundreds of times over the prior thirty years, whenever someone who has had the burning curiosity finally DID get to ask the questions of someone who would know, I realized I was mainly interested in one thing.
“Has he been writing? You know, all this time?”
“Constantly,” he said. “Almost every day.”
This knocked me out. It was, for me, too good to be true. And it had to be true. Why would he lie?
“He has a huge vault,” Matthew said. I seem to recall him describing the vault as being in the floor of his dad’s house, but that may just be a detail I layered on. I don’t know why. “It’s all in there.”
“You’ve seen it? Have you read any of it?”
“A little,” is what he said.
Finally, the real question: “What is it?”
“Glass family stories. Lots and lots of Glass family stories.”
“Will -- we -- ever get to read them?” I flashed on Franz Kafka’s final instructions to his literary executor, biographer and best friend, Max Brod: “Burn it all.” Brod, of course, betrayed Kafka’s dying wish. But one can’t always count on having a Max Brod around when you need one, can you?
Matthew didn’t know what the final arrangements for the stories would be. He didn’t know if his father was going to publish them, but he didn’t think he’d destroy them. Sooner or later they would come out.
J.D. Salinger died 14 years after that conversation, and since January 2010 I have been waiting to see a headline in the New York Times announcing the impending Salinger oeuvre’s publication. Now, in this somewhat cheesy “documentary,” the answer to the question has been tentatively answered. According to the movie (and the companion book), between 2015 and 2020, the books will begin to roll out. And I find it just about breathtaking that among the treasures to come will be an entire compendium of Seymour Glass and his relatives, The Family Glass, including at least five new stories, the final one of which, according to the latest info, depicts Seymour’s life after death. Also: a compendium of all fiction about members of Holden Caulfield’s extended family. Some of that stuff you can find on the Internet now: much of it was written before The Catcher in the Rye, and published in magazines in the fifties. (FYI: Popular magazines used to publish great fiction. Also, popular magazines, printed on paper, used to exist. Sigh.)
Matthew didn’t know this stuff when he and I had our pleasant conversation.
Before Matthew Salinger left my office, I remembered that I had brought something with me in anticipation of our meeting.
In my twenty or so years in marketing in the video business, I got to meet and sometimes work a little with many famous and not so famous actors, directors and other “industry people.” As a matter of interest, most of them were very nice to me; only a few were stuck up and self-important. Anyhow, for some reason I have never been an autograph hound. People would always say to me, “Did you get so-and-so’s autograph?” But I always felt that asking someone to make a piece of paper into a treasured icon by writing his or her name on it negated whatever little personal connection I might have enjoyed with them. But this case was the exception.
I asked Matt Salinger for an autograph, to which he readily agreed. I took out of my desk what I had brought with me from home that morning. In a Zip-loc bag I had my old copy of Franny & Zooey. It was in the bag because the front and back covers were gone, the spine was ripped, and the pages were (and still are) literally crumbling and mold-spotted. It was a book which had travelled many places with me. I wanted him to sign it beneath his father’s dedication.
Matt didn’t remember the dedication or his connection to it until I showed it to him. Here’s what it says:
As nearly as possible in the spirit of Matthew Salinger, age one, urging a luncheon companion to accept a cool lima bean, I urge my editor, mentor and (heaven help him) closest friend, William Shawn, genius domus of The New Yorker, lover of the long shot, protector of the unprolific, defender of the hopelessly flamboyant, most unreasonably modest of born-great artist-editors, to accept the pretty skimpy-looking book.
Matthew was tickled to read it, although it couldn’t have been for the first time. Here’s how he signed:
I hope “Mojave Moon” is more appealing than a cold lima bean.
Thanks for your help.